When you center any band around a piano, comparisons to Ben Folds Five are inevitable. Fearing a mere rip-off band, I started the self-titled CD by The Straw Theory spinning and sat back without much expectation. And so it was that the first song tore past my ears with a runaway train tempo and blazing guitars. The piano was at the center of the song but more like a skeletal structure upon which the copious guitars would hang than an ebony and ivory skin that makes itself the auditory focus. Ben who? The album continued with song after song of solidly written songs of innocence and youth with poetic, thought provoking lyrics backed by catchy, intricately arranged melodies. "Joker's Wilde", with its excellent juxtaposition of a breezy, laid-back verse with an aggressive, angular chorus is the perfect foil to the dreamy "Man On The Moon", a song singer/songwriter Tyler Houston shares with Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer and her ethereal vocals. Which is a good thing because the only weakness of this album is Houston's vocals. He handles the faster songs well but he tends to drone on in some of the slow songs, causing me great annoyance and ultimately, a quick punch of the fast-forward button. "Falling Forward" finds the band at their peak with a solid upbeat alternative radio song. Here the bass player plays sustained notes other than the chord root, creating some nice tensions in the verse that resolve in the chorus. And I would be amiss if I did not mention that "In The Future" may cause your speakers to blister and melt. All in all, an excellent first album that I would recommend to those who like their alternative rock fresh and innovative, but still rock.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, February 2000.