Challenger’s debut album, The World Is Too Much for Me, combines a whole lot of things you normally wouldn’t put together. The first thing is that the band is called Challenger, though the whispered vocals and soft keyboards are too gentle to bring fighting to mind. Then there’s the band’s own description of their “epic pop”: that it’s like “Sigur Ros had written the ‘Macarena.’” The tracks feature whispered lyrics juxtaposed with pop beats. Then there’s the album cover that features a photo of a baby kangaroo spooning a baby wombat (props to Adam for pointing it out.) But wait, there’s more (in fact, I think I could do a whole review on the cover alone): “Challenger” appears to be written on the cover in lipstick. Looking at it, you may get confused and actually think that the world is too much for you.
There’s an ‘80s feel to many of the songs; “To Discourage the Insincere” made me think of Paul Simon; Peter Gabriel comparisons came up throughout the album. Though “I Am Switches” starts off like a peppy dance-y track, it evolves into what could pass for the track played during the end credits of an eighties movie when the saxophone makes an appearance then evolves into something Peter Gabriel-esque with backwards vocals. The opening track, “Age of Apathy,” made me feel more Christmas-y than apathetic. Maybe it’s just that it’s after Thanksgiving and hearing bells and a sample of children singing has a Pavlovian effect, forcing me to grab tinsel.
Most of the lyrics seem like a plea, three of the titles are questions. “Are You Scared Too?” is the most pleading of them all, Ross says that he wants his mama and wants to watch Temple of Doom. It shares themes of death with “Don’t Die” and of drugs affecting your feelings with “How Are My Thoughts Not My Own?”
Aside from the ambient “Age of Apathy” and it’s reprise, all of the songs have that strange combo of John Ross’ whispered vocals and Devyn Waitt’s poppy keyboard and sequencer, all over John Frank’s drums. Only a few songs have organic-sounding instruments on them like “To Discourage the Insincere” and “Life in the Paint.” I’m kind of weirded out by all-whispering, but if that’s your thing, this is a great pop album. If you wish Peter Gabriel and Sigur Ros had a sound baby who loved keyboards, you’ll like this album.