Spun: The Elms

The black and white photos in The Chess Hotel’s CD liner are intended to look dirty: smoke, an ’88 Cutlass on a gravel road with a flat, an old building and power lines against an overcast sky.

Their songs speak of small-town life: old buildings and old men, the “towers and the trains,” working hard, dreaming of moving on and of being saved. These are all undoubtedly images of their American Midwest digs. While the ‘poetry of the praries’ has certainly found a home in a lot of modern music, it sadly fails to deliver on The Chess Hotel.

With the exception of the title track, the album is about as dirty as a Disney flick. The Elms seem happy to continue subscribing wholeheartedly to the Midwestern rock formula. While sometimes catchy, their sound is predictable and exactly that of the images: black and white. Undercutting their own themes takes away a lot of the potential The Chess Hotel has. Some real ambiguity or a different take on the area could have saved it, but it just comes up short.

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