I have exactly one friend who is a People in Planes fan. This isn’t to imply the band doesn’t have many fans. It’s just in my inner circle that I am aware of only one person who actively listens to these guys. So I did the only logical thing I could think of when I was assigned to review 'Beyond the Horizon', their just re-released 2008 album : I asked Taylor what he thought about it.

(The following exchange was edited heavily for content, both for length and to add relevance).

Me: So what do you think separates the band from other acts out there?

Taylor: Well see the thing is, I don’t know many other bands that might be included in the same genre as them (it took about twelve seconds for him to voraciously contradict this).

Me: Okay, well if they’re a genre unto themselves, what makes them different?

Taylor: I don’t know how to put it into words man. I don’t know. They are definitely a pop rock band (told you).

Me: Alright, go on....

Taylor: Like I said, I have no idea man. Surprisingly, my favourite tracks are the ones where the guitar player sings lead vocals. Lyrically they also made a better record then their past one, but musically the band seems stuck in what they brought to the table the first time around (on their debut 'As Far As the Eye Can See').

Me: If you had to guess what their collective goal was on 'Beyond the Horizon', what would you speculate?

Taylor: Oh definitely make it more mainstream, for sure.

Me: How did they do that? More hooky? More ironic references to the malaise of modernity?

Taylor: Yeah exactly.

Me: You mean to tell me they have been reading Charles fucking Taylor?

Taylor: No the hooks thing. 'As Far As the Eye Can See' had solid songs foundations that didn’t rely on lumbering chorus to take them home. It seems everything here is going for that epic FM sound, that as everybody who doesn’t like the radio knows, isn’t really epic at all.

Me: Do you think being more commercial suits People in Planes?

Taylor: Honestly, I do.

Me: Well that has worked out pretty nicely for them, eh?

Taylor: Hmmmm maybe. Being pop doesn’t really make you more commercial all the time though. Think about it.

The rest of the conversation included discussions of effective drunk poker strategy, as well as his general refusal to ever listen to any advice I may send his way, despite me being a good two years older than him, and at least two inches taller. So I don’t really feel the need to recap any of that here, but after it was done I did what he has never done for me: I took his advice, and thought about that last statement he made on the music of People in Planes.

There isn’t a lot to like on 'Beyond the Horizon'.I just had to get that out of the way. Anytime the slightest contrast is introduced, it’s immediately disregarded in the name of chugging riffs and towering vocals that make me yearn for the days of Soul Asylum (and I don’t mean that ironically or condescendingly either, I maintain they were one of the most underrated groups of their era). The fantastic 'Grave Dancer’s Union' alienated a lot of their long-time flannel wearing idiot fans who were jaded at the slick road the band had now turned down, and the reason I’m bringing this up isn’t to rag on those morons who screamed “Judas!” at the release of that album. It’s to make a very simple point concerning mainstream accessibility, communication breakdowns, and ultimately, soul-searching.

Soul Asylum fans all cried foul when 'Grave Dancer’s Union' came out, and as much as it strikes me as densely disproportionate when compared to a lot of the shlock Soul Asylum had put out before, the fact is, they actually developed a following based on those atrocious recordings It didn’t matter if that stuff wasn’t worth a pound of piss on its best day. The fact is a lot of people liked it, and felt betrayed when the music suddenly departed into significantly altered sonic territory, even if it was leaps and bounds above absolutely everything prior to it.

It was more mainstream, but what their fans didn’t really get, is Soul Asylum at heart, are one of the rare cases of a group who got exponentially more interesting by embracing their conventional impulses that yes, weren’t ironic, detached, angst-ridden, sardonic, caustic, or anything their hipster fans latched onto them in the name of vogue expediency. They turned into something much better than all that, which was sincere and genuine. Soul Asylum was lucky in that sense. All that multifaceted posturing got a small army behind them, but their music never really meant anything to the world until they accepted the heart of the band is one that should be shared by many, not adored by few. And they were rewarded handily for this alert realization.

People in Planes are sort of the same way, although from my dissection of their music, they are screwed from pretty much every angle. After the bore that was 'Beyond the Horizon', I went back and listened to As Far As the Eye Can See and it was a more interesting record. From my count, there were at least half a dozen tracks that were significantly stronger then the strongest one on 'Beyond the Horizon' (which was probably 'Tonight the Sun Will Rise'), and those half dozen weren’t exactly show-stopping. Still, they had enough neo-psychedelic experiments surviving within the midst of contemporary shoe-gazing FM outfits that did give Prople in Planes a distinctive voice of their own, even for every experiment that flourished, there were probably three that fell on its noble, but ostentatious ass.

The music on 'Beyond the Horizon' at first listen is definitely a regression, at least upon the first listen. It contains none of the intricacies from their debut, and granted those intricacies weren’t exactly as slyly rewarding as a finely tuned chamber music unit, they still provided enough appealing moments that could be considered more than healthy distractions. The title of this album is actually more clever than People in Planes probably knows. There is a lot to see beyond a horizon, but my naked eye can’t see it, so in my case, I have to settle for staring out into a vast, prairie wasteland, or tonight, listen to the new People in Planes record, which is about the same thing anyways.

Their crude voyage into watered-down, soulless muscular rock is only a regression if you believe progress is an objective analysis, which it maybe is most of the time, but when you take into account complex aspects like the need to be loved, and the aforementioned soul-searching, it becomes strictly relative to the matter at hand.

This is why I maintain Beyond the Horizon is a step forward for the band, if only because they are now much closer to the pinnacle of their literal existence then the awkward, yet much more absorbing debut. Unfortunately for People in Planes, their search for truth will only be concluded when they accept the hard fact their personal truth is a banal one, filled with a long journey to the middle.

'Beyond the Horizon' is the most fully realized released put out by People in Planes, but the looming problem here is not all revelations signify a superior state, even if they always are advancements in terms of relative comparisons to past atrocities committed in the name of intentional progress.
I guess what all this comes down to is a good news, bad news situation.
The good news is we should all be happy for People in Planes, as they have finally figured out who they were meant to be, and have stopped fighting it.
The bad news is this means all their songs sound the same, have little to zero lasting value, and after the last track on 'Beyond the Horizon' I immediately put on Pere Ubu’s Terminal Towers because I felt like such a dirty product of someone else’s realized dreary destiny.

Turns out there wasn’t a lot to think about Taylor, just a little crisis of identity, that’s all. Unfortunately for everybody it’s now solved.

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