In past PopMatters reviews of the Mezzanines, Starlight Mints, and Je Suis France, I couldn’t help but point out how these contemporary guitar-based indie rockers seemed to be returning to an alternative guitar-rock sound from the mid to late ‘80s. Walls of distortion and feedback, married as they were with infectious pop melodies and whiny slacker-boy vocals, seemed to hark back to the good old days of Dinosaur Jr. and Hüsker Dü. The feeling that all that is old is new again continues with the release of the debut by San Francisco’s the Stratford Four. The two men and two women tread a lot of previously covered indie-pop ground, but do it with such sweetness that few would question their sincerity. How ironic it is, though, that the foursome chose to name its first full-length effort The Revolt Against Tired Noises—not that its sound is tired, but it surely isn’t new or revolutionary either.
The opening track, “Rebecca”, at times recalls the Church, had they been more concerned with romance than drugs. The feedback that drenches the song in turns, however, sounds more like something out of Dinosaur Jr., as does former Black Rebel Motorcycle Club member Chris Streng’s vocals on “All Mistakes Are Mine”, the album’s only bona fide rocker. “All the Fading Stars” is also Church-like, with its ringing guitars and unusual vocal phrasings, which lie somewhere between Steve Kilbey and Lou Reed. Reed may also come to mind when listening to the lyrics, which recall some of Reed’s poetic, if simple, real life lessons: “Nothing’s ever perfect / But some things you’ll never forget”.
The Stratford Four has also been compared to Yo La Tengo, Spiritualized, and My Bloody Valentine, the latter referenced obviously for its trademark layers of guitars, the influence of which is boldly on display here. Fortunately, the Stratford Four hints at other influences, as when a lolling slide guitar creeps into “Window Open”. Another surprise is the sweet female vocalizing that pops up toward the end of album, although its sudden interjection interrupts the flow of the album somewhat. Still, no one is going to argue against “Autopilot”, which features irresistible boy-girl vocal tradeoffs during the chorus. The song has already been featured on television’s “Third Watch”, so that tells you something about the crowd-pleasing potential (or at least inability to offend) of this new band. An exclusive early release of the album through Insound (www.insound.com) has also proven successful, with the Stratford Four making the top-sellers list. So, it seems inevitable that the indie crowd will embrace the group, just as they did the band’s many, obvious influences.