In many ways, the last few years have been defined by the throwbacks to past decades which have managed to find their way into contemporary popular culture. From the late Amy Winehouse to Imelda May and even the Billy Bob Thornton-fronted Boxmasters, there’s been no shortage of bands mining the fertile ground laid in the jazz, funk, blues and rockabilly genres. Whether this has been a good thing can certainly be debated, but modern pop music has always been built upon a level of nostalgic pilfering. Success in this vein depends on how artists strike a balance between respecting the classics and revitalizing music for a new generation. The true winners find a way to stamp their own style upon what’s worked before, creating hybrids which are thoroughly modern.
Now Brooklyn’s Bandana Splits have arrived to provide their spin on ‘50s and ‘60s bubblegum pop and doo-wop in authentic three-part harmonies. Mr. Sam Presents the Bandana Splits successfully brings the new decade its first taste of authentic bubblegum. Inspired by the Ronettes, the Caravelles and the Andrews Sisters, among many others, the band formed earlier this year and recorded the album the way albums were recorded back in the day. This involved Mr. Sam (Sam Cohen of Apollo Sunshine) recording the album with the three singers singing live around a single microphone. The recordings therefore manage to maintain an intimate sound, recreating the refreshing casual sound of the genre they’re reviving. These songs aren’t overproduced in the least; the vocals are the main focus as they should be, and these ladies have a firm grasp of what made this style of pop shine.
Standouts like “You Don’t Have to Be A Baby to Cry”, which is a cover of the 1963 Caravelles hit, and “Sometimes”, the band’s first single, showcase the Bandana Splits sound to its fullest extent. Once you’ve heard those, the rest of the album is a prescription for more of the same. There’s the initial surprise of hearing this style of music played by a modern group, and then the realization that there’s nothing new being added to the mix. The band fails to define itself as much more than a throwback, unlike bands like the Weepies which have managed to put their own unique stamp on their sound while at the same time reviving it into the modern pop consciousness. As solid as the songs are, they’re not going to be enough for most casual listeners to fully identify with the band beyond as a curiosity.
Mr. Sam Presents the Bandana Splits is a perfect album for summer. The album fits in well with its contemporaries in the “let’s bring the music of the ‘60s back to a new generation” nostalgic mould. Yet, where singers like Winehouse paved the way for Adele to develop a modern, original sound based on the genre, the Bandana Splits seem perfectly comfortable playing the role of revivalist rather than by truly innovating. The album therefore an enjoyable bubblegum diversion, but like most candy confections, your enjoyment of the album beyond a few spins will depend on your tolerance for sugary sweet but otherwise forgettable sounds.