In Guards We Trust, the debut album from New York’s Guards on the Black Bell label, is above all else ambitious. The album’s 12 tracks amount to 45 minutes of sound. Oddly, the listening experience feels simultaneously much longer and much shorter. Sonically, the album is a river deep and wide. The arrangements, production and performances all come across as highly considered and unified; the result is aurally full and impressive. But after several listens, the album is still reluctant to give up any real hooks. It’s a sexy but promiscuous exchange that happens between Guards and the listener.
Guards appears to be the brainchild of Richie James Follin of the band Willowz, brother of Cults’ Madeline Follin. He holds sole writing credits for all of the material, and is for the most part the only vocalist. He evidently played most of the instruments on these recordings. This is all we know. The gaping lack of even the most basic biographical information on the band exposes an obvious attempt to cultivate mystery. This void may succeed in captivating the spoon-fed-by-publicist-soundbyte hipster fan, but can only serve to irritate a reviewer. Is it simply that there is no story? If In Guards We Trust were sufficiently moving, we wouldn’t need to search for biographical data. The music would guide us to a certain place of knowing.
That said, some of the tracks have much to offer, despite a palpable desire to please. Both “Silver Lining” and “I Know It’s You” are so joyfully energetic and sincere, it’s really hard not to be won over. The final track “1 & 1” navigates a lethal minefield of lyrical clichés about romantic love and still manages to emerge pure and heartfelt. The vulnerability in Follin’s vocal delivery on the track gives the listener a place to connect that is unfortunately absent from much of the material. “Ready to Go”, though lyrically unresolved, gets by on an effervescent, mood-lifting adrenaline shot.
In Guards We Trust feels more like the result of a precisely scheduled recording project than a band sweating their way through the birth of their first album. Their upcoming tour will hopefully shed some light into the empty corners of this skillfully manufactured mystery.
In Guards We Trust releases today, February 5, 2013.