On its third album, "Fantastic Planet," the Los Angeles band Failure tweaks and twists modern-rock formulas into a distinctively individual shape.
The music's impact is enhanced by the palpable sense of struggle that lingers in the final product, like thick brush strokes in a painting or the rough surface of a sculpture.
It's an appropriate technique for Failure's turbulent, confessional music, which positions the band alongside such contemporaries as L.A.'s Lifter and Eels and Ohio's Afghan Whigs in articulating feelings of isolation, defeat, self-recrimination and the struggle to communicate.
But the conviction and authenticity that make the album compelling were in short supply during Failure's show at the Whisky on Monday.
When the group's co-leader Ken Andrews sang with a Lennon-like rawness, he conveyed a bracing blend of frustration and stubborn hopefulness, but too often his voice was lost in a guitar-rock sound that compromised both the power and the finesse of the music.
It's surprising that a band that's been steeled by the bumps and bruises of its career obstacles would seem so directionless onstage.
But instead of offering the sustained vision and mounting urgency its music promises, the quartet meandered through a set that obscured the melodic elements and replaced the personal touches with a generic brand of sludgy hard rock.