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On Second Listen: Social Studies – The Hourglass [EP]

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It’s been a while since Social Studies was last on the scene. Their self-released debut, This Is The World’s Biggest Hammer, came out in 2006, and it’s been pretty quiet since then. Until now, that is. With the release of The Hourglass EP in 2009, the indie rockers return with a mysterious yet playful record that will probably keep old fans, but may not draw in new ones.

The Hourglass is a free digital download of only two songs. While that may seem like a lot, the songs are a preview of its upcoming album for later this year. Both these tracks show signs of maturity and growth, but also contain flaws that may restrain fans’ excitement for the new record.

The first number, “Time Bandit”, starts off with a jazzy intro of just Natalia Rogovin’s smooth vocals and light piano instrumentation. The light arrangement doesn’t last long, though, as the band transitions into the electro-rock that’s been heard from one end of the indie scene to the other. While the new accompaniment isn’t bad at all, it somewhat drowns out what the song had going for it the most: Rogovin’s singing. The underdog of the track is Jesse Hudson’s bass, which builds a sense of foreboding beneath the upbeat first impression “Time Bandit” makes. Without that bass part, the song would lose its anchor and become too sweet. Even though this saves the majority of the track from failing, the last thirty seconds slows way, way down and turns into an early Beatles tune. This ending feels tacked-on and doesn’t serve the number at all, making the first two parts appear as stitches in attempt to glue a song together.

“We Choose Our Own Adventures” is best described as poppy, playground music with sinister undertones. Rogovin seems to be singing about a constant struggle against a controlling force. When she sings, “We’ll fight together for half our lives,” her voice sounds tired yet determined not to fail. This track sticks to more typical rock territory while still retaining the weirdness of “Time Bandit.” About halfway through, the song slows down into a wave of percussion before transitioning to a faster segment with driving drums and a simplistic but catchy guitar riff. It keeps building and building until it suddenly ends at the crescendo. This sudden ending hurts the song, since the band appeared to be building up to a big payoff but didn’t follow through.

The Hourglass EP is a very flawed record that hopefully represents these songs in early stages of development. When you listen, you can hear good songs buried beneath all the mistakes. Luckily for Social Studies, they can fix these problems when the tracks are re-released on their second full-length record. If you’re a fan, check the EP out to see where the band is heading. If you’re not a fan, skip this EP, and wait to see if the band makes any improvements of the full-length album.

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