not like the world needed any more artists bent on copping
the bopping beats, fuzzed-out guitar squeal, elfin vocals,
and pompy backup singing of T. Rex. But if someone is going
to do it again, they better do it right—and Smith Westerns
do just that.
The band’s self-titled debut was as garage and lo-fi as it
was T. Rex-obsessed, but Dye It Blonde embraces headphone-sexing,
Tony Visconti-style production, and it’s covered in enough
reverb to make you wonder if any will be left over for bands
like Fleet Foxes and Wavves. On “All Die Young,” the band
deliver their approximation of “Children of the Revolution,”
anthemic and grand, swelling with organs and ooh-oohs.
On “Still New,” they prove over and over again the the classic
formula works as they break the pop waves with a searing guitar
lick. It’s not quite a solo, and the trick happens so many
times in the song that you would think it would be impossible
to fall for it. But each time that lick hits, your heart jumps.
It is a shameless take on T. Rex’s “Ballrooms of Mars” (and
even ends with a bit of backwards tape riffing, like “Ballrooms”).
But Cullen Omori’s vocals make the song something totally
different—his vocals are slight, much slighter than Bolan’s,
and while Bolan made his songs supernatural with lyrics like
“John Lennon knows your name and I’ve seen him,” Omori makes
his simplistic lyrics and vocals flow along with the song,
more like another instrument than a rock star.
If you like a good indie album with a heaping helping of old-school
glam styling, you can’t do much better than Dye It Blonde.
If you are a T.Rex fan, pick up this album for the same warm
feeling any of that band’s classic albums ever gave you. Seriously,
it’s that good.
second full-length release (there have also been some EPs)
by Ben + Vesper is my entry point. I’ve heard nothing prior,
but now most likely will, once I’m over being intrigued by
the catchy and mysterious bearing of Honors. The lyrics
are rich with observations, metaphors and introspection, often
in slivered and resonant phrases. The whole may make itself
apparent later, but at first blush it’s like the facets of
a diamond, each one sparkling and reflecting. The titles themselves
are compelling, though they seem to function as labels without
being drawn from what is sung. And then there’s the matter
of the band’s name: They are a married couple, each one being
on either side of the plus sign. Ben is actually Joshua Stamper;
Vesper’s real name does not make itself apparent.
those facts out of the way, the sonics are what are at the
heart of this disc. Stamper’s guitar and Vesper’s keyboards
are half of the core quartet, along with bassist John Mosloskie
and drummer Steve Oyola, appended on some tracks by Sufjan
Stevens on piano. Just as Ben + Vesper’s reference points
empower the songwriting, mine allow for comparisons unique
to my past listening experiences. The opening track, “Adult
Vaga,” got my attention because the couple’s harmony vocals
brought to mind a favored Boston band from the 1980s, Christmas.
There are also connections to the character of works by Stevens
and Rilo Kiley (or, more specifically, the conversational
phraseology of Jenny Lewis’ lyrics).
For the most part an electric ensemble, they judiciously utilize
acoustic instruments as well, such as on the curiously titled
“Understruggle: Yay, Win.” The album’s closing title track
is a tour de force of anthemic bearing wedded to campfire
no one told Between the Buried and Me frontman Tommy Rogers
that a passable Roger Waters impression is not a strong enough
base for an album. Pulse, his second solo record, released
under the name Thomas Giles, brings to mind a scene from the
Noah Baumbach film The Squid and the Whale. The one
where Jesse Eisenberg’s character wins over the crowd at the
school talent show with his take on Pink Floyd’s “Hey You.”
He claims to have written the song himself, but is eventually
outed. He excuses his plagiarism by saying, “I felt like I
could have written it, so the fact that it was already written
was just a technicality.”
In the same way, it doesn’t seem that Rogers feels any shame
for draping himself in his influences. Between the Buried
and Me are a furiously creative metal outlet who combine the
influences of all their members. It’s an eclectic mix, and
that is something special in the metal scene these days. But
alone, Rogers isn’t delivering anything special.
His Pink Floyd imitations combined with bad drum-machine breaks,
stuttering synth lines, and a few nods to Mike Patton and
Freddie Mercury, add up to little more than a self-indulgent
mix tape. And yet for something that seems like a vanity project,
there is actually very little grandeur or experimentation.
Songs like “Sleep Shake” and “Hypoxia” find Rogers tripping
over himself to complicate simple ballads with dumb industrial
breaks. This passes as creative in the metal world, despite
amateurish lyrics and a limited vocal range, because Rogers
is normally screaming his guts out. So this album somehow
translates into maturity.
an acoustic ballad with Rogers doing his best Thom Yorke/Chris
Martin impression, is the easiest to swallow. It sounds like
something off Radiohead’s The Bends album (good), but
features lyrics that could be taken straight from Hail
to the Thief (bad). On “Medic,” Rogers abandons the acoustic
pretense and goes back to his usual uber-processed cookie-monster
scream, backed by shredding guitars, and somehow it just feels
much, much more natural.
If loving Pink Floyd and being able to emulate their spaced-out
vocals and lyrics were criteria enough to release an album,
every college kid with a shitty acoustic guitar and dreads
would be pimping their new slow-jam prog release. But most
people are smart enough to realize they can’t get away with
ripping off just one band—even Modest Mouse had to add the
Pixies to their repertoire to gain mainstream appeal.