If only their scene weren’t so damn overcrowded, Operation Makeout could be the best band in Vancouver today. As it happens, they’re the third best, at least as far as the considered judgment of the UBC/CITR annual Battle of the Bands is concerned. Me, I think their latest album Hang Loose is really great, an indie-punk party record of the first order, and I’m making a note of their tour schedule in case they head through the Twin Cities.
Their sound ain’t unique, and that’s what I love about it. A guy and grrrl shouting alternating phrases between some chiming-crunching guitars, it’s the same bracing aesthetic that’s nurtured great tunes from X to Pretty Girls Make Graves. Operation Makeout takes a slightly more jagged and rhythmic approach to it all, a sound similar to the pattering double-helix of voices and six-strings that makes Sleater-Kinney so great. The band’s only Y-chromosome, bassist Jesse Gander, sings in a rough and gravelly style, part indie-boy, part bar band. It takes a second or two to get acclimate yourself to his halfway-to-Steppenwolf voice, but after a while you’ll grow to love it. The band’s other shouter (and ostensible leader) is guitarist Katie Lapi, whose amateurish style is a heartwarming and courageous cry into the wind. Sorta like a young Carrie Brownstein, she sounds bravely anonymous until you listen closely. Still, there’s no forgetting her ringing guitar signature which seduces with hooky patterns of single notes rather than ripping out the power chords. And the trio would be nothing without Anna Clarke, whose drumming is less a rhythm than a continuous vibration underneath all the songs. On the whole, the sound is swift and ebullient, a coy dive into a splashing Pacific of sound.
The lyrics often seem like riddles, oddball metaphors and descriptions that challenge you to figure them out. The opening track, a crashing gimme-indie-rock rush of sound called “Life on Your Windowsill” seems to be written from the perspective of a cat . . . or maybe an anthropomorphized window pane? Anyway, the tune would fit right in on one of those old 1980s Homestead compilations. Things get even better with the memorable “Daylife”, about seizing the day and crashing on its floor, and the poppy, cyclical “Current Events” which plays on the electrical meaning of the word “current”. “On the Steps” has a wonderful herky-jerk opening and a good sense of indie-slacker details: riding the skateboard home, doling out clichés, bitching about nostalgia. Hell, there’s even a really good instrumental, “Lost, Unwanted . . . But Still Nice”, which got some heads bobbing at my apartment a couple weeks back.
My favorite tracks come in at the end. “Tune Out” has some beautiful chiming guitars, and Jesse’s angst-and-fountain-pen lyrics get steamrollered by that no-nonsense sandpaper shout. I pressed repeat on that one a couple times, and if I could explain why I love it so, I would. It just sounds like magic. The closing track, “Contents”, is the one I return to the most. It’s about a about a culture-ulcer bookworm (itself an engaging premise), but there’s something haunting and beautiful about how that statuesque Katie strums and shouts into the indie void.
Hang Loose is a great album, and you gotta wonder whether peripheral local scenesters such as Operation Makeout could get even better simply by having a wider audience. I think so: buy the album. At the very least, it’ll make some good background music at your next off-campus hipster cotillion. And, let’s see . . . one, two, three, four, five . . . five (5) tracks here are excellent additions to any 2003 mix tape. Could indie-punk praise get any higher?