On paper, local quartet St. Varela has a pretty interesting formula: tumbling rhythms, big and ringing guitar chords, vague hints of '90s style psychedelia, and close harmony singing, smeared with electronic bleeps and honks. But on their debut record Way Up Here It's Quiet... the result is more in line with Alice in Chains' Jar of Flies remixed by Filter. And while that may not be among history's least dubious achievements, credit is due for attempting such an odd and audacious hybrid.
Does it work? That depends on the quality of each song. Too many tracks do float by without leaving much of an impression; worse is that a handful of songs are memorable primarily for their weaknesses. The main flaw of Way Up Here It's Quiet... is that its marriage of MTV Unplugged: '90s Alternative Rock Edition to MTV: Amped '90s techno compilations seems forced and unnecessary.
But songs like "A Call to Prayer," which recalls John Lennon's "sound of 1000 monks chanting" in the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" over beats as monolithic as Ringo's, and "Moving Along," where the acoustic guitars tether themselves to the rhythms, resulting in some serious Wonder Twin Powers, show quite a bit of promise. It's telling that the structures of these tracks abandon the quiet verse/big chorus template followed by the majority of the album. Still, the bulls-eye of "No Air Conditioning," in which all of St. Varela's ambitions are realized, indicate the band will only get better.