Glorious, Old-Time Music
So you’re a Denver psych-pop band putting out consistently solid, catchy ‘60s style music with enough personality to fall on this side of indie in a cow town known more for the jam band proclivities of its neighbor to the north (Boulder) or its abundance of Lo-Do frat rock cover bands than its burgeoning underground scene; a city that was just too much to handle for your closest kin, Apples in Stereo, driving that band all the way to the backwoods of Kentucky. What do you do?
Well, if you’re Tammy Ealom and Co., you get all dressed up to dance, head down to the South By Southwest Music Festival to whip some Texas-sized buzz, and release a greatest hits record. That’s right—greatest hits. Well, sort of anyway. The 13 tracks were mostly first released as 7-inches, EPs and imports. But you know what? It just might be working.
Dressy Bessy blew down the doors of Emo’s in Austin earlier this year with a sound best described as Brian Wilson directing a Sleater-Kinney that has finally admitted they really did dig the Go-Go’s. Throw in some garage-tinged psychedelic guitar work and you’ve got the unlikely formula for The Next Big Thing. And Little Music is just a hint at what everyone is talking about.
The opening track, “Live to Tell All”, has so much energy it surely will inspire a new line of dashboard indie rock girl bobble dolls, bouncing around in their lollipop-stripped miniskirt, white nylons and matching knee-high go-go boots (Ealom’s outfit of choice at SXSW). It could almost be considered too much sunshine—bubble-gum pop at its worst—if it weren’t so damn catchy and if John Hill’s guitar wasn’t so scorching. Shaking and shimmying and doing their little dance, it’s Dressy Bessy at its best—fun and smart vintage rock. How this stuff hasn’t found its way to radio would be mystery if not for Clear Channel.
The second track, the equally strong “Lipstick”, starts out with nearly 50 seconds of Pong-like bleeps over keyboards before giving way to Hill’s syncopated, fuzzed-out rhythm guitar, evoking the very best of the Kinks. Ealom’s first few melodic lines, “Lipstick / He wore it on his collar / As she kissed him / A little bit like me”, are quickly joined by her twin studio sister in an infectious harmony that would make the best of the ‘60s Britpopster set envious.
“Gloria Days” falls into that same vein before giving way to “Instead”, which is the band at its most indie—a sing-a-long minor key groove that is probably most responsible for the comparisons to Sleater-Kinney. “All the Right Reasons”, “Ultra Vivid Color”, and “Fuzzy” explore the punk and psych-rock side of the band, crunchy garage guitars with a laid-back melody hovering above them. “2 My Question” slows things down a bit, reverb-heavy and slow-burning, it stands out of place with the rest of the disc and is one of the few disappointments.
But Dressy Bessy never disappoints for long. “Princess”, about a girl who gets high all the time among other things, returns to the rave-out girl garage rock that the band does best. “Sunny” and then “I’m Never Wrong”, light but deceptively clever like a good beach book, round out the older material on the disc.
Yet, this isn’t completely a look back. The last track on Little Music is the demo version of “Tidy”, a new song that utilizes a drum track to mixed results but also indicates that Ealom, Hill, bassist Rob Greene, and drummer Darren Albert haven’t exactly lost their touch. Those who have been fortunate enough to get their hands on the rest of the material on August’s self-title follow-up, though, never had to worry about that. Predicting who’s going to “make it” and who isn’t has always been dicey business, but you’ve got to like these odds.