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Favourite Sons

Down Beside Your Beauty

(Vice; US: 12 Sep 2006; UK: 30 Oct 2006)

New York’s Favourite Sons make no apologies about being a straight-up rock band. They’re older and, perhaps, wiser than most bands just getting around to releasing their debut—but then again, most bands don’t have quite the same not-quite-pedigree indie legacy that these guys do. Specifically, vocalist and principal songwriter Ken Griffin led 90s indie band Rollerskate Skinny; the other band members were previously Philadelphia-based band Aspera. Not knowing anything about either of these bands, it’s enough to understand that the group’s members have all been through the hard slog of starting a band, demoing tunes, recording an album, promoting, performing—the whole thing—at least once before.


Sticking to the universal themes that hang around rock music like a bad smell—love, death, love—Favourite Sons seem to have deliberately circumscribed experimentation for these recognizable rock tropes. Or maybe it’s just that Griffin only thinks in these conventional terms. Either way, we’re left with music that, while totally competent, sometimes fails to blow the listener away with insight or power. The instrumentation follows this model, too, with guitars that jangle but rarely thunder; with two guitars and a bass, the sound of Favourite Sons could certainly have been more aggressive.


Instead, we get some interesting Nick Cave-isms, the occasional Strokes reference, and the occasional side-stepping of parody. It’s most obviously combined in the title track, where the epic instrumentation, tom-tom percussion and overwrought vocals are one step away from “Wonderboy”. But the band neatly avoids this self-parody by putting true feeling out there. As with “The Tall Grass”, Nick Cave’s morbid baritone informs Griffin’s phrasing and feeling; in contrast, the music is much less complex than Cave’s, and spins easily back into straight rock-pop.


A trio of strong songs bolster the disc’s second half, but it’s not enough to firmly establish Favourite Sons as something separate from its web of influences. “Tear The Room Apart” tones down the melodrama for multi-tracked vocals and patent romance; “Round Here” uses big, atmospheric cymbals and a disgusted, downtrodden chorus; and “Hang On, Girl” effectively employs a chugging rock background that could have been an old idea from Is This It, though it never feels derivative.


Favourite Sons are going to have to do something a little more novel, though, to become a favourite band. Their combination of melodrama and power has been done before and by a master of the genre, such that this new band can’t hope to match; but they’ve still got a solid command of the basic elements of writing rock songs. This should stand them in good stead for next time around.

Rating:

Dan Raper has been writing about music for PopMatters since 2005. Prior to that he did the same thing for his college newspaper and for his school newspaper before that. Of course he also writes fiction, though his only published work is entitled "Gamma-secretase exists on the plasma membrane as an intact complex that accepts substrates and effects intramembrane cleavage". He is currently studying medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia.


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