Monday, June 23, 2014

So Retro They’re Current

Echosmith, The Temples, 
Hamilton Leithauser

     Some of the recent bands sound like chestnuts of yesteryear, whether or not on purpose.  There’s pleasure in rehearing the sound of a favorite period or musical group in a new artist, though it begs the question of whether that artist can make the sound its own and whether they can maintain a long-term career in the mainstream.

Echosmith Siblings
      Echosmith is probably the least like an earlier sound in its instrumentation.  Formed by the Sierta siblings (Jamie, Sydney, Noah, and Graham) when were just out of the womb, Neil first heard them on WNKU being expounded as a band
we’d be talking about four months from now.  We saw them on one of Palladia channel’s new band specials and they pretty much left the other bands in the aural dust.  They wrote all their songs with their engineer Jeffery David on their album Talking Dreams, released last fall.

Sydney Sierta of Echosmith
     Front woman Sydney – she’s maybe sixteen? – possesses the focused, competent demeanor of Tina Weymouth.  She sings, plays keyboards, noodles around on other instruments, and never breaks a sweat.  Brothers Jamie on lead guitar and Noah on bass also switch off onto other instruments and, though it’s obvious their talent is prodigious, they are disarmingly matter-of-fact.  Youngest brother Graham (should he be out this late, I wondered.  Did he finish his Honors Algebra II homework?) sets the beat like a pro twice his age.  

     Echosmith played the Vans Warped Tour last year (who knew it would still be going) and will do so again this year.  They’re worth seeing and hearing because their pop/rock songs are all about being young, being together, and finding the courage to take off to parts unknown either geographically or emotionally.  They recall some wonderful pop-rock/new wave groups from the early 1980s like Quarterflash or The Human League, though they jangle like The Bangles.  Here’s hoping they succeed at being around a few years from now.

     Ben told me about the Temples when we were talking about top albums of the year so far.  He said they had a Beatles sound.  Noel Gallagher, songwriter and one of the wild siblings, of Oasis has publicly chastised Britain’s Radio One for not playing the Temples more.

    Ben was right about the band as new – they were only formed in late 2012 and just released Sun Structures this past winter – and their sound.  I’d venture to go more specific and say they sound like a doppelganger for The Beatles at the time they recorded Magical Mystery Tour (1967).

The Temples
     Lead singer James Bagshaw, who produced and wrote most of the songs, feels like he’s channeling John Lennon around the era of Rubber Soul (1965).  Actually, he could be his musical spiritual heir, more so than even his actual son Julian on Valotte (1984) because that production is of the 1980s.  The production of Sun Structures could have leapt out of England in 1967.  It’s not just like The Beatles; it’s also like The Kinks.  The cover and interior art look like something that Pink Floyd – before Syd Barrett’s drug induced schizophrenia – or The Rolling Stones – before Brian Jones drowned – would either have used or discarded as second best.  The songs are cool, but can they keep it going and if they do, are they much different from Sha-Na-Na in the late 1970s?  Are they nostalgic or “invented nostalgia”?  The ‘60s British bands were overcoming storm waves to venture into uncharted waters, though they relied on their anchors of the Blues, R & B, Skiffle, and the Music Hall if things got too out of hand with Psychodelic Pop or Progressive Rock.  As I’ve indicated, some members couldn’t make it.  When does a groove become a rut?

     While I looked through the stacks at Shake It Records a couple of weeks ago, Neil listened to some of the new albums and happened upon Hamilton Leithauser’s Black Hours (2014).  We hadn’t encountered Leithauser before, though he’s been the lead singer for The Walkmen for over a decade.
They broke up last year and he released Black Hours earlier this month.  

     His songs are about the search for love and despair over its possible outcomes.  The album is more of a song cycle – thematically a little like Beck’s Sea Change (2002) – that traces a trajectory of desire, heart-break, apathy, envy, and a final coming to terms with himself.  That new realization is more complex than it initially appears because Leithauser addresses both genders on this album and it’s not clear if they are friends, confidantes, or intimates.  

Hamilton Leithauser
     The Walkmen and Leithauser’s earlier band The Recoys preferred a vintage sound and were compared to The Troggs.  Going solo, Leithauser goes back to an almost pre-Mersey/California surf sound with something that could have come out of the twilight of the supper clubs of the 1950s and early 1960s.  Thankfully, he doesn’t ape Sinatra and The Rat Pack (he must have figured out that Michael Bublé has a lock on that – if only Justin Timberlake had understood that last year), but instead goes for a Del Shannon/Gene Pitney vibe.  His voice has a rasp that speaks greater volumes about experience and the production feels like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, rather than a lot of the smoother digitized sound of today.  The cover shot has a cool, B&W 1964 feel.  He could have just finished a set at The Hammersmith Odeon or The Peppermint Lounge.

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