Perhaps David Terry’s love life has taken a turn for the worse. The singer-songwriter and general front man of the indie-pop band Aqueduct has steered his sound away from the cheerful optimism of his first album, “I Sold Gold,” into a darker, more complex territory. Although both of Aqueduct’s albums are, more or less, ruminations on love — lost, unrequited or otherwise — their sophomore album, “Or Give Me Death,” is darker and more cynical than its forerunner. This shift to a more brooding sentimentality is mirrored in the album names (and album covers) and in the their rather distinct acoustic milieus.
While the same charmingly untrained, slightly nasal vocals that listeners expect from Aqueduct can be heard flittering through the tracks on “Or Give Me Death,” the album is marked by piano-heavy harmonies and an at times almost orchestral weightiness, while “I Sold Gold” was conspicuously dominated by the synthesizer. Aqueduct’s sound is now more complex, and understandably so, considering that what began as a one-man act out of a bedroom somewhere in Tulsa, Okla., is now a multi-member outfit that calls Seattle home. Unfortunately, while their new sound may be more mature it’s not necessarily better: There was something inherently more charming, more endearing, about “I Sold Gold” and its myriad upbeat love ballads. “Or Give Me Death” takes itself too seriously, is too lingering, and is ultimately the worse for its lack of energy.
Terry’s new, more sluggish style is typified in the album’s opening track, “Lying in the Bed I’ve Made” (especially when compared to the brief, playful, almost wistful “The Suggestion Box” that opens “I Sold Gold”). The song has an undeniably melancholy undertone, which aptly sets the mood for the rest of the album. The tracks “Unavailable” and “Wasted Energy,” perhaps even more than the opening track, epitomize the album’s ponderous and at times depressing affect.
Thankfully, though, there are a few promising songs on the album to balance things out. “Split the Difference” has an almost manic, rather annoying synth beat with lyrics that are at times sung at a dizzying speed. The next track, “As You Wish,” experiments with brass instruments (a trend heard in many of the album’s songs) and is one of the most harmonious of Aqueduct’s songs. “Living A Lie,” buoyant and unmistakably indebted to The Killers’ sensational “Mr. Brightside,” is perhaps most akin to the tracks on “I Sold Gold” — although the almost painfully synth-heavy “Zero the Controls” is reminiscent of Aqueduct’s earlier, less instrumental style as well.
Whether Mr. Terry has undergone a recent heartbreak or not, something about Aqueduct has changed. Although fans of their earlier work most likely won’t be disappointed with “Or Give Me Death,” it lacks most of the bright-eyed, refreshing energy of “I Sold Gold” and even their EP, “Pistols At Dawn.” For now, let’s just hope that David Terry finds a new girlfriend before taking another stab at it.