I wanted to enjoy Pipapelli's Borderguard. The very idea of bagpipe-infused rock had me grinning. And to be fair, the bagpipe works well; the opening notes of "Borderguard," with the pipes curling over the faint sounds of fighting, leads to a satisfying clash with the modern rock sound of guitars. Then the glorious potential of Borderguard is set aside, and the sad reality staggers in.
It's certainly not refined or complicated; the opening song "Borderguard" has one of the most simplistic melodies in rock. But that would be fine, if it weren't for the accompanying flat, distant vocals. On the plus side, I can understand what's being said. On the other hand, these are hardly lyrics you need to hear. "Borderguard" has a bit of story and poetry to it, but "I Like It Like That" is filled with nothing but the line "I like it this way" sung at varying levels of intensity. The repetitive guitar does not help in the least. "Longtime Searchin'" manages to break the curse of melodic repetition with some fine blues rock and mad playful guitar. But decent efforts like "Longtime Searchin'" are overwhelmed by the hobby band horrors of songs like "A ol Lotta Love." The lyrics and, even worse, the melodies continue to be repetitive throughout the album; most of the playing, with the exception of the bagpipes, is barely adequate.
Even the best band would lose a lot of appeal with this atrocious sound mixing. The album sounds like it was produced by someone experimenting with sound effects, using a recording made outside the garage where the band was performing. Vocal performances lose almost all their force with this bizarre faded sound.
Pipapelli isn't completely without merit; occasionally, when they forget about sounding cool or wild and just blast away on their instruments, they achieve a sort of garage-rock purity that almost redeems the entire album. The best part comes when they stop trying to make a song, and just blast away on instruments. And even the harsh failures of sound can't completely destroy the near hypnotic effects of songs like "Borderguard" and "Chicken Paprikash." There is a playful quality to the playing and the arrangements that almost makes the mediocrity of the actual songs excusable. I plan to hold onto Borderguard in anticipation of the day when Pipapelli reaches the potential that peeks through the gaping seams in this album, to use as blackmail material on musicians who show clear signs of someday being much better than this. When that day comes, fans of strange rock should support their efforts. But not just yet.