January 20, 2009: Iran, Dissolver

Those hoping to uncover a rough gem of a TV on the Radio sideproject will probably be pretty disappointed by Iran, whose main member Aaron Aites had the good fortune to enlist of the help of TVOTR guitarist Kyp Malone for Iran’s self-titled 2000 album and 2003’s The Moon Boys. Those albums were cavalcades of tape wreckage and feedback with some songs maybe buried somewhere underneath— at the time, a reasonable diversion for those of us who missed the halcyon days of early 90s lo-fi. And even these days, with the rise of Woodsist/Fuck It Tapes and a legion of other psych-damaged home-recordists, one would think a new Iran album similar to the others would attract some new fans. Unfortunately, we got Dissolver instead.

Thanks to the TVOTR connection, Aites got Dave Sitek to record him in a real studio for a change, which apparently blew his mind all to hell because now Iran sounds like Pink Floyd— mopey arena-rock with lots of importantly strummed acoustic guitars and vocals mixed way too high. And when I say “arena-rock” I’m not kidding, because halfway through the album Iran interrupts a pretty little acoustic tune with a bombastic reprise of an earlier track, complete with piped-in crowd noise. Questionable employment of irony aside, though, the new cleaned-up Iran doesn’t work for me; Aites doesn’t have the frontman charisma to carry these songs, or imbue them with a distinct personality. Maybe the album would have worked better if it had been dirtied up a bit (think Dave Fridmann’s treatment of Low’s The Great Destroyer and Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods), but that’s not Sitek’s production style, which is a big part of the problem. The other big part is the classic dilemma of the aggressively lo-fi band: how much of the band’s appeal is defined by their production values, and how much of the appeal will be lost if said values change? Pavement and GBV had the songwriting chops to succeed after having shed their lo-fi ways; most other bands (Iran included) should probably stay well hidden deep down in their 4-tracks.