Some people claim to hate pop music. In my opinion, that’s just not possible. You can hate the mindlessly formulaic, treacly shit that’s often called pop music; fair enough. But that’s not the same thing as hating pop music, because pop music is too big a category to hate. It’s not about a particular formula, it’s about playing with formulas in general, turning them around or just tweaking them subtly. And that’s exactly what the Aislers Set does so successfully on their latest Slumberland release, The Last Match. Just when a song seems headed straight for three chord, punk-pop hell they rescue it and make it special. You may not like their style but you have to respect their craft. Like it or not, it’s good pop music.
As a live band the Aislers Set rock convincingly: they slow down for the quiet parts, punch up the choruses, give it their all for the big ending—they’re a great live band. But on their albums they’re great in a different, quieter and darker, way. Much like Brian Wilson or the Jesus and Mary Chain, bandleader and principal songwriter Amy Linton is a master at making rich rock cacophony sound personal and lonely.
On the Aisler’s Set’s first album, Terrible Things Happen, the personal touch was de riguer; not only did Linton write nearly all the songs but she performed them mostly by herself as well. For The Last Match, however, she decided to bring the live band into the studio (or whatever you call the theoretical space where home multi-track recording takes place) and the results are fantastic. Solid drumming by Yoshi Nakamoto is especially noteworthy, but the livelier, more organic feel of the live band is evident throughout the record, as is the influence of Wyatt Cusick as both a musician and a songwriter. His two songs, both slow numbers, give The Last Match room to breathe; and with “Chicago New York”—a tender, cinematic song in the general Velvet’s tribute style of Belle and Sebastian—he contributes one of the album’s highlights to boot.
Before forming The Aislers Set, Amy Linton was in the much loved Henry’s Dress, and her experience as a long time songwriter shows. Besides having a great ear for hooks—there’s at least one ringer in every song on The Last Match—she takes the care to zig where lesser writers would zag. Check out the way “One Half Laughing” takes its chord progression to places you wouldn’t have expected but immediately enjoy hearing.
My only critisizm of The Last Match, and its not much of one, is that the vocals are sometimes mixed too low to be comprehensible. While this does complete the sound of the record in a way louder vocals couldn’t have, it’s also unfortunate since the lyrics aren’t always decipherable. If that bothers you, then go see the Aisler Set’s charming live show and sit near the speaker. In the meantime buy the record because it too has its charms.
// Notes from the Road
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