Sunday, October 30, 2011
As much as the guitar fuzz and surf beat point to the band's roots in 60s garage, this album is a strangely luminescent rumination on mortality that digs much deeper than any of its aural antecedents might first suggest. It all seems to emanate from vocalist Dee Dee (aka Kristen Gundred), whose voice has taken on a slight hint of the young Chrissie Hynde and whose lyrics confront heartbreak in a way that's as direct as it is free of cheap sentimentality. On almost every song she transforms pop songs into pop drama, turning her own tragedy into high art. "Heartbeat", for example, initially gets by due to the effectiveness of its melodic hook, until you realize the "take it away" chorus refers to overwhelming sorrow. "Coming Down" builds to a climax in which Dee Dee repeats "here I go" as if she's incapable of stopping the descent. Behind her the band creates a jangly, fuzzy sonic swirl that mixes the Ronettes, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Mazzy Star, and most of the Nuggets box set into something that at times still seems to be trying to find itself - but there's very little doubt that we're seeing the birth of a true star here.
There's not a lot of variation here, but variation is a crutch for the uncommitted, right? Just ask the Ramones. Or Sousa. Or the republican base. Thing is, what these guys do may be limited, but they do it like the next three minutes are the most important 179 seconds in the universe. Almost every song seems to rise out of a morose static drone that bleeds between tracks, and when the embellishments arrive - a nervous acoustic strum, 60s girl group beat, the constant threat of guitar violence - they're just faintly familiar enough that they cradle everything in the comfort of nostalgia. And the cherry on top of all that is the voice - an untrained working class Scot burr that doesn't so much confess sins as declare them. The end result shimmers with a luminous melancholy that contains a fair amount of magic. Definitely a mood piece, but it's a mood that most of us are eventually committed to whether we like it or not.
The gameplan for the debut album by Yep seems straightforward enough. Al Chan (of the Rubinoos) and Mark Caputo (of Belleville) teamed up and cherry-picked some of their favorite songs from all over the pop continuum. They demonstrated great taste and impressive record collections in the process, creating a songwriters' universe in which Don Everly, Ray Davies, Woody Guthrie, and Elton John stand shoulder to shoulder with Joe Pernice, Justin Currie, Teitur Lassen, Richard Buckner and Alan Wauters. The songs (ten covers and one Caputo original) are presented in rich, uncluttered arrangements. Around them guitars twang and jangle, occasionally kick up some distortion but never enough to kill the mellow buzz. Producer John Cuniberti finds the exact right balance between technologically pristine and organically natural.
And then those voices enter the picture, and suddenly nothing seems straightforward anymore. The vocals of Chan and Caputo wind around each other in such stunning harmony that they invoke a sense of utter timelessness. It's like the Everly Brothers smashcut into a new millennium. And that's not to suggest an old-fashioned approach. There's no rose-tinted grasp at the past here, just as there's no auto-tuned plasticity begging for mainstream approval; this is a simple, unadorned flexing of talent that should intimidate other singers and delight everyone else.
Some music just seems to stand outside of time, completely impervious to passing trends and fleeting style. It makes its own rules, defines its own sense of cool. A pantheon of greats already inhabits such rarefied air. Is it possible that Chan and Caputo have joined them? Yep. Yep. A thousand times Yep.
Yep on Amazon
Whenever I start to lament the demise of modern music, a band like this will show up and kick my ass. Watts somehow wedge their tough rock 'n' roll in the same space between punk and power pop that once made the Replacements seem so necessary. Each song on On The Dial comes armed with at least a couple barbed hooks, and the band backs them up with the cool swagger of a 50s street gang. Singer Dan Kopko's rasp holds a similarity to Social Distortion's Mike Ness (but with a more advanced sense of both melody and humor), while guitarist John Blout's muscular, dramatic leads are concise and tuneful, and underneath it all the rhythm section of Craig Lapointe and John Lynch pushes every bar forward with a lurching, inevitable momentum. The band may be named after Rolling Stones drummer Charlie, but I'm going out on a limb and claiming they're paying similar homage to Mott the Hoople bassist Overend, because as much as these songs chug along with the Chuck Berryisms of a punked-up Stones they also revel in the hard-bitten romantic fatalism of the best moments of Mott (and now that I think of it, I may have to start a campaign to get these guys to cover either "Jerkin' Crocus" or "One of the Boys" - it might be a perfect fit). Smart enough to title a song "Sweetheart of the Radio", cool enough to cover Angel City (aka the Angels), and, godbless'em, brave enough to even try at all - Watts is a band after my own heart.
Watts on Amazon