Review: Scoville Unit – Everybody Knows

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy July 21, 2004
Scoville Unit’s Everybody Knows is an aptly titled debut from an up-and-coming group of five Connecticut friends, a guitar- and vocal-driven pop-rock affair that taps into some familiar melodies while keeping its audience bouncing in carefully synched unison.
But the 11-track Ernest Jenning release doesn’t develop a unique voice so much as it stabs at, alludes to, and references others, from the quirky 80s keyboard-flecked choruses of “The Switch” to the swaying balladry of “Do Not Disturb” and “The New Design” to the playful folksiness of (the poorly named) “Last Train to Scoville.”

There are moments when the band’s sound seems to work, when it feels like a vaguely promising, though somewhat underdeveloped, outfit in commercial radio’s studio-polished, hit-driven pop-rock legacy.

Those moments, sadly, are few and far between, though, and the record often more closely resembles a demo for a band that has yet to find the sound that really makes it who it is.

Examples of this – let’s call it a rough draft syndrome of sorts – abound over the record’s 40-minute running time. There’s a strange and inviting noise intro to “The Morning After” — the opening track on Everybody Knows — but it quickly disappears behind the band’s palm-muted guitars, careful but predictable harmonies, and pseudo-catchy Big Rock refrains.

There are some interesting dissonant keyboard interludes in “Do Not Disturb,” but there’s no way the song merits nearly five minutes of repeating choruses and bridges.

The record’s closing “Everything” is clunky and awkward at best, a five-minute track with some interesting (and even fulfilling) asides that never seem to contribute to a larger whole. And then there’s the Unit’s take on “Wildest Dreams,” a song that was played to death again and again and again long before the band decided to rehash it with little distinction from the original. Listening to the track, it’s tough to shake the notion the band learned to play it only to crack wise during sets at local bars. (When will this fad of pop/pop-punk bands covering deader-than-dead 80s radio hits just shrivel up and go away?)

But, in all fairness, the record hits some of the right notes for those ready to receive it.

“Bitter Drinks” accents its crunchy guitar choruses with interesting bits of piano and keyboard. In “Secret Mission to Your Heart,” despite some occasionally sophomoric lyrics, Gandhar Savur’s sometimes-monotone voice lends an air of tenderness and soft-spoken simplicity to the proceedings.

The slightly-less-than-hi-fi “Oh, Centuries Ago” has a buoyant charm to it that may leave some wondering how many early Beatles or Monkees records these guys have in their personal collections. These moments, though, are just that: moments.

In its entirety, Everybody Knows isn’t much of a complete package as it is a series of snapshots of a group of friends just beginning to collaborate musically. The songs are there, sure, but Scoville Unit’s sound itself hasn’t quite developed to a point where it’s distinguishable from countless, countless other acts. If you’re looking for something to keep your attention for a few minutes on the radio, Everybody Knows has a few things to offer.

If you’re looking for something more, though, you’d best wait for the band to develop and spread its wings on tour and on future releases.

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