Someone should start a summer festival where every band is a boy-girl indie rock duo. You could book the White Stripes, Matt & Kim, the Fiery Furnaces, the Raveonettes, and Mates of State among many others. If the gender specificity is dropped, Tegan and Sara could be added as well. It would be a pretty good show.
Naked Hearts could have a plum opening spot and more than hold their own with the more established acts. Amy Cooper and Noah Wheeler’s first album, Mass Hysteria, is a strong set of pop rock gems that go for hooks and melodies over the odd rhythms and occasional outbursts of pure noise favored by some of their peers. Cooper and Wheeler have clearly been spending a lot of time with their ‘90s influences. The song “Boyfriend” sounds so much like a lost track off a Juliana Hatfield album that it’s eerie. Of course, like much of Hatfield’s work, it is also a completely enjoyable bouncy romp. While “Boyfriend” is a fun listen, if the whole album was similarly derivative it would be easily dismissed.
Instead, Naked Hearts have been saved by a band that also must be in heavy rotation on their playlist: Nirvana. The strong influence of grunge can be heard throughout the album. “Grow”‘s guitar riff is inspired directly by Nirvana. “Way I See You” feels like a combination of the guitar from “Rape Me” and the bass and drums from “Come as You Are”. When Cooper and Wheeler sing together on the propulsive title track, it makes you wonder what the song would sound like if it was a lost basement track duet between Cobain and Courtney Love. Yet there is not a hint of Kurt Cobain in Wheeler’s voice; he sounds more like Evan Dando. Cooper has a voice reminiscent of Tanya Donelly. What sets Mass Hysteria apart is the juxtaposition of those clean vocals and the crunch of the music behind them.
While Naked Hearts strive to echo Nirvana in the music, neither Cooper nor Wheeler capture the anguish that marked all of Cobain’s vocals. But, then again, they don’t seem to be tortured by personal demons like he was either. Grunge is deployed on this album as a style to be incorporated and appreciated, not as merely a tribute to its founders, which is appropriate treatment for a 20-year-old genre.
It is easy to focus on the band’s influences, but that sells short how good the songs are without any reference to the past. When Cooper and Wheeler take turns singing “No one likes you like me” on “Like I Do”, they capture a perfect mixture of threatening and sweet that makes it impossible to know if they are falling in love or stalking each other. With many indie duos, you can hear the gaps that are being filled in by synthesizers and computers. Naked Hearts does an excellent job spackling over the holes to create a full rock sound.
All in all, Mass Hysteria is a solid set. An auspicious debut from a band to watch in the future.