Lab Coast/Extra Happy Ghost is the first of a series of records featuring Calgary bands by the label Saved by Vinyl. Overall, experimental noise is the main river of sound, leading off into auditory tributaries of poppy surf rock, mournful shoegaze and over-indulgent psychedelia, all coexisting underneath a fog of ever-present distortion.
Side A features two tracks by Calgary psychedelic/experimental indie act Lab Coast. "For Now" opens with a sunny yet distorted '60s California surf rock sound. Unconventional, plucky percussion laid overtop an ethereal anchor melody adds a cheeky feel and gives the song personality. Vocalist David Laing sounds like he's crooning while submerged in electrified fishbowl water-- and strangely enough, that's not a bad thing. "82 Will I Be You" again demonstrates vocals taking a backseat to experimental instrumentals to develop Lab Coast's sound.
Unfortunately, both tracks seem one-dimensional and fail to contribute anything particularly earth-shaking. The tracks' principal musical gestures are the musical equivalents of rice cakes-- mildly appetizing and somewhat filling, but still bland and unsubstantial.
Side B arrives courtesy of Extra Happy Ghost. The lo-fi "1990s Brain Damage" starts out promisingly with a solid rhythm section, but takes a turn for the worse. One understands that they're trying to wring out their souls for that last precious drop of tortured shoegaze angst that we all know makes for "good art," but this seems contrived and overindulgent rather than real and vulnerable. The off-key organ is irritating rather than transcendent and makes it seem like the band didn't care enough to do a second take. "Mechanical 111," an ambiguously-named track that didn't make it onto EHG's last album How the Beach Boys Sound to Those with No Feelings, is hipster noise pop for the entire family. Casio-like tones and dystopian themes make it sound like a less marketable Tokyo Police Club tune.
Ultimately, though, this disc feels like it should be surrounded by quotation marks. Both bands pride their rough recording processes and purposefully out-of-tune musical elements, but with this disc both bands somehow prove that not trying at all can still come off as trying too hard. Truthfully, it's unfair to make a definitive conclusion of where these two bands are headed stylistically from two tracks each. One must applaud Saved by Vinyl for taking on this slew of forthcoming split seven inch record projects, but Lab Coast/Extra Happy Ghost is undeniable proof that said projects will appeal to a very, very limited audience. And interestingly enough, it seems like that was their goal all along.