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Changing Modes - In Flight

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The best line on Changing Modes' In Flight album is from the song "Professional Girl." It states, "She's a professional girl/In an amateur world." Don't we all feel that way at times?

On the downside, however, this song's title goes a long way in critiquing the group's music. Changing Modes is very much a professional band. Fronted by Wendy Griffiths, who accurately sings the act's songs backed by a small collective of highly skilled New York musicians, the band has put together an album of mostly quirky little songs. For instance, this album opens with the nerdy, science-inspired "Particle Collector." At times, this album reminds one of early, pre-African music Talking Heads albums. They sound talented; they just don't come off as particularly cool.

After a while, you may find yourself longing for the ghost in the machine, or at least something sounding a little more vulnerable and human. One fine exception that satisfies the need for a tad more grit and humanity comes with "Blue," which features a fine bluesy piano part. In contrast, "Ghost in the Backseat" sports a 60s-influenced rocking organ part. The male/female vocal is a little like those old John Doe and Exene Cervenka harmonies on X albums. Yet the recording sounds a little too clean, like the table in a dentist's chair before the dentist gets to work on your teeth. It's just more sanitized than it really needs to be. The music has been scrubbed of much of its life.

The word that comes back again and again while listening to Changing Modes is art rock. It's as though the group is physically incapable of letting its hair down and getting loose. There is a sense of uptightness that prevents the music from taking flight. Like a kite on a string, it will only go as high as the flyer lets the string take it.

Bill Murray famously praised a dentist's professionalism for a role he played in Little Shop of Horrors. The same can be said of Changing Modes. It's their utter professionalism that is admirable. In kind, dentists can also be highly professional. They're punctual and accurate, when at their best, which serves to get the job down. With that said, though, it doesn't make us want to visit the dentist any more. We don't sit in that dentist chair because we recognize the skill it takes to do dental work. Instead, we go there because we absolutely need to. Now, listing to Changing Modes' In Flight is not nearly as unpleasant as getting a filling at the dentist. But to some degree, this music doesn't touch the brain's pleasure centers nearly enough. If endorphins are released at all, it's at a stingy snail's pace.

Getting back to "Professional Girl," this is an example of Changing Modes getting it right. In addition to its smart and memorable words, the song has a warm, Latin groove and even features a jazzy trumpet solo. Music is just as needful for the body as it is for the brain. Changing Modes music reaches the brain, but "Professional Girl" is one of the very rare times where the body is also rocked. One wonders what Changing Modes might sound like with a few drinks in 'em.


Changing Modes - In Flight
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