The liner notes and press releases accompanying Lauren K. Newman’s Postulate II tout the artist as a multi-instrumentalist, a songwriter, and the force responsible for all the instruments featured on the album. We also learn that Postulate II is not only Newman’s fifth album, but also the continuation of a 2006 effort entitled–withhold your shock–Postulate I. Whenever there’s a multi-instrumental songwriter putting out sequels to her albums, words like “indulgent” and “pretentious” might find their way into reviews, and these adjectives aren’t pleasant for anyone.
However, “pleasant” would not be an appropriate description of Postulate II either. Despite the claims of Newman’s publicity team, the album isn’t particularly melodic. It lacks hooks; even after multiple plays, it is difficult to recall memorable lines. It’s safe to say that these songs probably won’t find their way to mainstream radio rotations, though there are plenty who would consider that a positive characteristic.
Indeed, the lack of musical hooks shouldn’t translate to automatic condemnation. Newman’s instrumental skills are not in question here. “Pleasant” might not be an appropriate description of the album, but “impressive” could be. Postulate II opens with chaotic but ferocious drums, a persistently present feature – it was hardly surprising to discover that Newman began her musical career at the age of fifteen as a drummer of a punk band. Drums are often relegated to the role of time-keeping tools, but with Newman, they are actual instruments in their own right, carrying song writing weight and vying for attention amongst guitars and pianos. Then again, there’s a good reason why drum solos are not widely featured in the realm of rock music: they get old. After the third track, the novelty wears off and the drumming starts to seem haphazard.
Thankfully, Newman is qualified in other instruments. The songs may not be much in the ways of melody, but they are certainly layered. There’s a certain manic energy in the manner in which Newman shreds her guitar, reminiscent of hardcore bands. However, the same cannot be said for the vocals. For as energized and varied as her instruments are, her vocals are flat and monotone. At times, they seem to be almost an afterthought, unnecessarily tacked on. The album might have functioned better as an entirely instrumental work.
Is it indulgent and pretentious, or impressive and well-crafted? The distinction lies entirely with the preferences of the listener. One bemoans the lack of musical hooks, a second marvels at the intricate instrumentals. In the end, perhaps the best way to characterize Postulate II is not to do so at all. Newman’s abilities defy glib categorization: there's a line for the press releases.