[28 June 2010]
The rich history of free association lyrics in indie rock: Jonathan Richman’s irreverent wit, Beck’s slacker verses, The Moldy Peaches’ potty mouth, and Pavement’s triumphant “Careers”. It was all the rage in the freewheeling ‘90s. Then things got morbidly serious post-9/11, and exurban white kids substituted guitars with MacBooks that could mimic West African percussion.
But it is in this climate that we receive Bright Gray, a refreshing and unique take on a tried and true formula. Lead singer Casey Jost and crew lead us into ruminations on ghosts, parents, one-night stands and juvenile jokes, all in a slapdash paint-by-numbers approach that allows Jost to shoot his witty lyrics like darts at the board of pretentious indie rock.
The pastiche of lyrics and quirky riffs can sometimes weave haphazard narratives. The front end of Bright Gray offers an odd juxtaposition.
“Ghosts” reminds us how fleeting and fragile the relationships of those closest to us may be, and this is contrasted with “Pix”, a song that describes a permanent impression of some fleeting encounter documented by a “perfect picture” and “a notch, but not in my waistline”. Could it be that the arbitrary meeting, a temporary acquaintance, somehow has more of an impact on our psyche than those we hold near and dear? It’s heady stuff. At least if contemplated from this perspective, but all delivered with a puerile slapdash we can enjoy from a safe distance. Just sit back and enjoy.
“Graveyard” gives us Unicorns like dissonance in its syncopated verses—the idea of death again peripherally revisited through a close family member. Some standard, though neglected, indie tropes come time and again with “Sneezy”. But the ‘90s never come more correct on Bright Gray than on “Sunset”. A jaunty upbeat excursion, the bass and drums drop out two-thirds of the way through, leaving Jost alone with his first-person lyrics and choppy riffs until backing vocals and pounding drums crescendo into the confused checklist: “ashes, glasses, car keys—I don’t get too far at all”.
The debut is not perfect—they rarely are—and the album has some loose ends that could otherwise be tightly wound. But Bright Gray hits those discarded notes of years past, the ones worth holding on to. Maybe now we can abandon the ridiculous attempt to bridge suburban youth with third world culture via blog hype and indie pop rock. Leave the West African rhythms to the West Africans. The Bush Administration and Sept. 11th are well behind us. We’re all gonna be OK. We’ll survive and go on to sing lyrics that veer on the inane. At least, that’s if Les Vinyl’s Bright Gray has anything to say about it.