Sandbox, a seven-piece band from Los Angeles, has undeniable ambition. They aim for some fusion of Beck’s musical adventurism with the Arcade Fire’s theatrical and unrepentingly bombastic music. The band sometimes meets those lofty aspirations, but they get tripped up by their own originality; they haven't learned that eclecticism isn’t an end in itself.
There’s a lot of appealing instrumentation on display in Sandbox’s Me & Him & Horse. The sinuous rhythms and ethereal background singing on the album’s opener, “Tried and Tried,” the subtle piano and flourishes in “Doesn’t Really Matter,” and the lively Latin trumpets that herald “Puzzles in Pavement” are all compelling. Many of the other tracks on Me & Him & Horse contain similarly intriguing moments.
But songs aren’t accumulations of moments; a successful song is a cohesive whole. The band's overstuffed songs often meander before collapsing into heaps. Sandbox could take a cue from one of their professed inspirations, Beck, who rarely lets his appetite for novelty undermine the integrity of the songs.
Something must be said of Sandbox’s leader and vocalist, Shane Sweet. His vocals may be an acquired taste, as he favors a nasal drone, minus the resonant vibrato that would make it endearing. Sweet doesn't just sing… on “Holly Would” he sadly takes a stab at rapping, with Keidis-esque clumsiness.
It's a pity that Sweet's vocal misfires are so distracting because he's a competent singer and can be an incisive lyricist. "Everybody" is a perceptive commentary on connection in the era of Facebook and Twitter: "My friends became a trophy case of every flame ever erased in my past... The illusion of the big connect, our living timelines intersect on our Wall." This is smart writing but it gets lost inside Sandbox's sprawling, unfocused compositions.
Ambition and experimentalism are admirable, but Sandbox needs to accept that jumbles of stitched-together sonic experiments don't add up to great songs. In short, they should hire a better producer. Skip Me & Him and Horse but watch out for this group in the future. If they tighten up the songwriting, and add depth and contrast to the vocal arrangements, they could explode with something truly original.