Sunday, March 25, 2007

Judging a Band by It's Covers (by Wildcat)

Beach House are really working overtime in Texas these days. After playing two Dallas shows in the past couple of months and making the trek down to Austin for SXSW last week, they’ll return to the Lone Star state lickety split with The Clientele, who will be touring in support of their upcoming release, “God Save the Clientele.” Hopefully Alasdair MacLean will forget to pack his attitude and it won’t be “God Save the Sound Guy” at Hailey’s—May 18th.

I was out of town for the first Dallas Beach House show and I regrettably missed their performance last week in favor of what turned out to be a stomach churning Mavericks loss to the much hated Suns. Last Friday presented two opportunities to finally see them perform at SXSW. I first caught Beach House at the afternoon event at Emo’s amongst a long list of what I felt were otherwise forgettable performers, and later that night they headlined the Carpark showcase at the Tap Room on 4th St. The Tap Room show was a dream—no trouble getting in, small stage, nice beers on tap, lemon oil scented restroom facilities, the works. I got there just in time to see Ecstatic Sunshine unleash their startling guitar theatrics. I’d never seen or heard them before, and my first reaction was that they sounded like what would happen if Polvo tried to play dueling banjos or something (you can download one of their songs here). They sounded at times beautiful, at other times sarcastic or childish, and at others unsettling. Not bad, but I didn’t complain when their set ended after45 minutes. Beach House took the stage and played more or less the same songs they had played a few hours earlier. They closed with “Master of None” before returning to play a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last a Long Time” as an encore—coincidentally a very nice tip of the cap to Austin.

SXSW FALLOUT: TWO BROS AND TWO BABES- So with the Beach House/Clientele tour news and on the strength of their SXSW gigs, I figured that I might as well cowboy up and buy “Beach House,” as well as the latest from Dean and Britta, entitled Back Numbers. I’m out there looking for my Luna fix just as much as the next guy, but I’d been in no rush to get Back Numbers since D&B conveniently left Texas off their current tour schedule (not to mention the album's mostly lukewarm reviews). Both albums feature a guy/girl duo, and since I bought them together I felt that making a comparison between the two was justified. Unfortunately for longtime Galaxy 500 and Luna devotees, Dean and Britta come off as just too cute—stylized at best, and tiresome at worst. “Words You Used to Say” is a strong track, and you can checkout the video on their Myspace page. “The Sun is Still Sunny” is lovely and easy to connect with, but I can’t help feeling jaded when learning that another of the album’s best, “Crystal Blue,” is an eulogy for a departed pet bunny rabbit. Add in lyrics about oatmeal cookies and a Donovan cover (“Teen Angel”), and it’s just not as easy to invest in this stuff as it was with Galaxy and Luna. It’s like, "Oh of course there’s a Donovan cover. Great." I almost feel cheated that D&B didn’t learn Japanese just to include a bonus Pizzicato 5 cover or something to that effect. And knowing that Victoria and Alex of Beach House are the ones that grew up together in France, wouldn’t you expect that they’d be the ones that evoke played out French Pop aesthetics? Rather, D&B recall Serge and Bridget Bardot (“Me & My Babies” or “Say Goodnight”?), while Victoria and Alex sound more like Mogwai set to a slow waltz, and in the end their rudimentary musicianship and conspicuous mistakes lend them a sincerity that D&B seem to have misplaced. Whereas Britta’s voice sounds preconceived, Victoria blends Karen Carpenter with Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and doesn’t compromise soul for beauty while achieving both.

Britta Phillips is so good looking that it might just have been inevitable that I’d be skeptical of Back Numbers. How could you ever be sure that you were head over heels for a Dean and Britta album rather than just for Britta (or Dean for that matter)? Maybe I’m jealous of Britta because it feels like she took away my Dean—the old Dean. In 1988, Thurston Moore called Galaxy 500’s Today the guitar album of the year, and at that time, Dean was covering songs like George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” Joy Division’s“Ceremony,” and VU’s “Here She Comes Now.” Those sentiments gradually shifted over the years as fans of the Dean Wareham canon were presented with such Luna tokens as “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Bonnie and Clyde.” GnR covers can be fun, but they’re not Joy Division covers (see also Bedhead, “Disorder”). I'm probably in the minority here, but I think Luna’s 2004 album, Rendezvous (also their last) largely stands up to anything else they released, but perhaps it’s telling that two of the strongest pieces on that album were Sean Eden contributions: “Broken Chair” and “Still at Home.” Maybe Old Dean is just gone, and I shouldn't hold a grudge against Britta, but I can't help myself. Back Numbers isn’t a bad album, but I really hope he comes back for the next one.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look dude, you posted a pic of Britta Phillips. We are too distracted to read.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

His cover of "Cheese and Onions" by The Rutles might have been his finest moment. That's taste.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woah, right out the gate, that's some solid writing. I don't give a damn about people writing passionately about music and being either pissed or elated as a result of having listened to a record, feeling the need to babble with junior-high prose.
This is what I like though; descriptive, nearly void of rampant opinion. Solid.
Good job.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

britta water filters

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to 2:22

Woah, right out the gate, i dont give a damn about people writing passionately about a music blog in a comment section, either pissed or elated at we shot jr writers as the result of reading their blog, and feeling the need to babble with their junior college prose. This is what i like; writing that isnt boring and that will atleast attempt to cover a broad spectrum of music.All of these writers do a good job, if you dont think so make your own periodical bro!!!

9:30 PM  
Blogger Anaheim said...

Rendezvous is a great album.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shouldn't it be "its" rather than "it's"? Otherwise, I agree that the writing is solid, but that's the one thing that is always consistent at WSJR.

1:23 PM  

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