The Phantom Tollbooth
Rialto Bridge Maxi-single
Artist: Fine China
Label: Velvet Blue
Length: 4 tracks / 14:26 minutes
It's become a fad for a lot of lesser-known indie bands to put out limited edition vinyl and CD maxi-singles. Originally, it was a low-cost way of building a fan base among poor "scenesters" or putting new music in the hands of fans sooner, but now it often seems to be done simply because it's expected or lends an air of authenticity to unknown bands. Whichever angle Fine China is coming from, they've decided to put out this four-song Rialto Bridge maxi-single.
Fans may be surprised at the changes made since the 1997 No One Knows EP. The shoe-gazer distortion has been replaced by poppier electronica, mostly due to Ronnie Martin's (Joy Electric) production hand. Dance beats and keyboard sounds beep and burp cheerfully beneath the sadder guitars and vocals. Lyrics like "I promise you that I love, I promise you I care, And I promise you they'll never be another" make sense as part of the Starflyer 59/Joy Electric framework Fine China is now obviously aiming for. The sound is almost a cross between the two bands in some ways, but retains just enough originality to stave off accusations of "rip-off."

There isn't much to chew on with only four tracks, but thankfully there is variety, from the melodic distortion-less guitar picking, higher vocals, and pretty keyboard swirling of "Standby" to the full Joy Electric synthesizer treatment of "I'm Sorry." The brevity of the project may unfortunately kill  interest for all except fans and those indie "scenesters" who've bought into this type of thing. Let's hope they create enough of a fan or financial base to actually put out a full-length album someday.

by Josh Spencer (1/6/99)