A Pretty Big Deal
When you name your band Big Deal, you can elicit one of two responses: either people will think that you are, in fact, a really big deal, or you might get something sarcastic like, “Eh, big deal!” Thankfully, the duo of California-born Kacey Underwood and London’s Alice Costelloe fall more squarely into the former camp than latter thanks to the big, meaty alterna rock hooks on their sophomore release June Gloom. (Which is, yes, being cheekily released in the month of June.) This record is actually a departure for the group: 2011’s debut, Lights Out, was recorded with just electric and acoustic guitars backing the dewy male-female vocals. June Gloom, on the other hand, is the sort of record that could have been written on a single beat-up guitar, but the sound has been expanded to include drums and bass—so Underwood and Costelloe are pretty much a full band sort of deal these days. That would be fine in and of itself, but Big Deal has some killer songs to bring to the table this time, the sort of things that nestle comfortably into your ear, hang up a hammock, turn on a small light, and crack open a good book. Which is to say, these songs linger and stay awhile, even though the odd one will, if not have you reaching for Cults comparisons, leave you with the impression of having heard something familiar.
Indeed, there’s familiarity to be found in the 12 cuts that make up June Gloom and none is more pronounced than the intro to single “In Your Car”: the opening riff wholeheartedly steals the opening stuttered guitar notes of the Cars’ seminal “Just What I Needed”. Ric Ocasek would probably be penning a cease and desist letter, if not for the fact that the song quickly swerves off the road and becomes something other than just a clone of a great late ‘70s power pop gem. With the purring boy-girl vocals—Underwood sounds as remarkably laconic as the dude from Marcy Playground—the song is a simple, fist-in-the-air, driving (literally and figuratively) anthem. But that’s not all that’s great about June Gloom. “Teradactol” has a shoegazey tone to it with fuzzed out guitars, and I’m sure Underwood and Costelloe are writing a check and sending a bottle of wine to My Bloody Valentine for inspiration. However, the song is more than a carbon copy of a MBV track: the vocals are pushed to the fore, and the song actually starts and stops to collect its breath. “Call and I’ll Come”, with its twangy, jangly guitar line, catches a particular Californian wave, and, if all goes according to plan, I’m sure it will be dominating radio playlists when the sun is at its apex this summer, when you’re lying on a beach somewhere with a portable radio, nursing some suntan lotion to block the harmful UV rays.
Meanwhile, “Pillow” has a menacing slink: it crawls up behind you, taps you on the shoulder and gives you a great big wallop on the cheek. It’s invigorating, even though the couple coo “I don’t know what you need” on the song. Well, you practically need this since it’s so darn catchy. “Little Dipper”, meanwhile, jettisons the full band arrangement of most of the rest of the album (“Pristine” is also another song in this laid-back, just guitars and heavenly vocals vein) and becomes quite the quiet and lilting lullaby. “Don’t go”, the couple pleads here, and I’m totally on board with that. You just don’t want the chilled out vibe to end. And, perhaps the very best thing is at the very end of the album: the six-minute anthem (for a 17-year-old girl) “Close Your Eyes” has a particularly lonesome quality to it, with just an easily strummed lazy guitar until the song reaches a climax and explodes into a thrilling maelstrom of metallic shimmer. You can practically break out the glitter for this song, which is an electrifying conclusion to an already great record.
June Gloom is really an album that’s mostly killer, little filler—pretty much all to be found here is engaging and winsome, and one’s appreciation for the record grows with repeated listens. However, if there’s one thing I’m not sure of, it’s that June Gloom feels more like a collection of songs—really great songs, granted—and less like a robust album that hangs together as an artistic statement. June Gloom is kind of a singles collection to a point, but the good news is that just about everything is of solid quality and provides a sunny, breezy concoction that you can just lay back and enjoy. A candid confession to make here: I actually listened to this disc while pursuing some online personal ads, and the lush male-female vocals and hooky hooks provided the perfect soundtrack to such a wistful activity. So perhaps my judgement might be clouded, but this album exudes the feeling of hope and promise: that there might be someone right for you out there, despite all of the pitfalls of being in a long-term relationship that this record seemingly points out. “What if no one else cares?” sings Costelloe on “Call and I’ll Come”, as though she might be slightly worried about public reaction to this. Rest assured: based on the evidence here, there’s an awful lot to care about with the carefree, easy-going sounds of June Gloom, with almost nary a gray cloud in sight. As the title suggests, this is a perfect summery album that combines the wet feel of unpredictable English weather with the airy, breezy feel of something born out of California. It is, in a word or two, a pretty big deal; it’s excellent.