With flotillas of garage bands and arty, post-punk New New Waves crashing the airwaves daily (at least that’s the stuff that finds its way to my ears these days), it’s refreshing to hear an indie rock band that is more “indie rock” than “indie rock”. Arkansas-based quartet American Princes is one of those bands, and while the band members—guitarist/singer David Slade, guitarist/keyboardist Collins Kilgore, drummer Matt Quin and bassist Luke Hunsicker—call the Midwest home (though all but Kilgore are transplanted New Yorkers), they’re no Anthemic Heartland Rockers. Rather, on their 2004 debut LP, Little Spaces—reissued by Yep Roc, in preparation for the band’s Yep Roc debut proper, slated for 2006—the Princes proclaim themselves heirs to the “Dark Midwest” (for lack of a better phrase) currently occupied by Lucero and Kings of Leon.
Rather, two-thirds of Little Spaces makes that proclamation. They open strong: unabashed rockers like “I Want to Be Good”, led by Quin’s insistent drums, and the Whiskeytown-gone-punk “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”, overflowing with big guitars and a solid guitar solo, are what the Princes do best. They also close the album on a high note, with the one-two-three punch of “The Sun Never Sets”, the stomping “What’s This We’ve Found” and “100 Eyes”. These five songs would’ve made a helluvan EP, and at the very least leave listeners excited at the prospect’s of next year’s release, but they’ve got to lose the elements that hamstring Little Spaces’ middle third.
Slade and Kilgore split vocal duties on the album, but credit isn’t given as to who sings on which track, but one of them is guilty of singing whiny emo lyrics in a flat emo voice, which drags down the middle of the album—Big Problem Number One. On the acoustic, stripped down (incidentally, that’s Small Problem Number Two—these guys are at their peak when they drop the hammer), Singer X blubbers “Are you tired of me asking too much of you?” in a voice that sounds like Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba—eek. Ditto for “Providence, RI”—the vocals don’t fit the band’s identity, and with lines like “Take me back to sunny Providence, RI”, the band betrays the fact that they’ve never been to Providence (my apologies to the Providence Chamber of Commerce). And while I dig the line “Tylenol breakfast for alcohol dinners” from “Eyeliner”, I can’t get onboard with the tune itself, a downbeat waltz. I know that ballads and midtempo numbers are part of a rock band’s repertoire, but when the disparity between the rockers and the “slow songs” is as great as it is on Little Spaces, a band needs to reconsider its attack and stick with what it does best.
The phrase “modern classic rock” is incorrectly applied at an alarming rate these days (and here I’m talking not about fusty, hopelessly out of date rock and roll, the Nickelbacks of the world; in the best sense of the phrase, it evokes the abovementioned Lucero, Kings of Leon, and, say, the latest Sleater-Kinney record), but it’s a genre that could be within reach for the American Princes an album or two down the line. All they have to do is keep the rhythm section rock solid, tighten up the riffs, which admittedly are a little too workmanlike, and drop the emo tendencies, and American Princes could have a modern classic rock gem on their hands.