[31 August 2010]
Ah, the dream life of the young musician. Jamming in garages and dorm rooms, making up crazy band names just for the hell of it, playing for crowds of close friends in attics and skeevy little clubs, and maybe writing that gem of a tune that blows it all wide open. It’s a theme that has reverberated through pop culture like the ticking of a million practice room metronomes from Buddy Holly to Sex Bob-Omb. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin tell a version of this story both in their history and their music, creating youthful, energetic pop parked at a well-marked late ‘90s intersection of lo-fi guitar rock, pop-punk and alt-acoustic songwriting.
Let It Sway, the band’s third album after 2005’s Broom and 2008’s Pershing, has brewed and blended those influences, keeping their flavours intact but putting them into the context of a more modern musical culture, a place where “indie” has replaced “alternative” in the great amorphous lexicon of unconventional rock music. Throw in solid production by Death Cab for Cutie alum Chris Walla, a man who has charted rock’s changing semiotic course (and sharpened his studio chops to a fine point) in working with just about everyone from his Bellingham mates to the Decemberists to Gord Downie to Tegan and Sara, and the result is a hook-saturated and many-textured album that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The album opens with “Back in the Saddle”, a song whose first few lines read like a suburban order of battle: “We’re gonna take you down / We’re gonna build a street that’s perfect / We’re gonna make it last.” The drums are appropriately martial, and the chiming clean guitar lick gives way to a cheering-loud chorus of oh-whoas and the command to “keep on drinking ‘till it spins” as folky elements weave their way into the soundscape. “Sink/Let It Sway” follows with a surf-infused catchiness that masks lyrical gravity, with vocalist Philip Dickey proclaiming “the whole world’s gonna sink” in tones that suggest something of Figure 8-era Elliott Smith.
“Banned by the Man” concludes the album’s fantastic three-track burst out of the gate. It recalls Nada Surf’s Matthew Cawes (are we playing Six Degrees of Walla yet?), boasting infectious handclaps and a na-nahing chorus that feels built on the bones of “All the Small Things”—just one of the dashes of mall-punk energy that pepper the album’s soundscape.
Let It Sway is interesting for the way that it balances electric fun with moments of wiry tension: “In Pairs” treads this line between its taut first half and the sublimely jammy breakdown that follows. On “My Terrible Personality”, Dickey comes across bitter and darkly self-depreciating, mumbling “I can’t believe you haven’t killed me yet” to an unseen partner, but once again the song kicks to life in a manic shredder of a middle bit. Songs like “Critical Drain” and “Animalkind”, though not as strong as some of the disc’s earlier material, pit world-weary vocals against upbeat whirls of lo-fi pop without losing their balance, while “Phantomwise” pulls out some angstier stops amid churning guitar noise.
More examples of the band’s multifaceted dynamic show up throughout the album: “Everyln” is a quick and exciting rush of a song, but its follow-up, the curiously bilingual “Stuart Gets Lost Dans Le Metro” sets the disc’s midpoint with a delicate, highly textured acoustic feel as Dickey’s strained and airy vocals rebound off of resonating layers of acoustic guitar, piano and twinkling percussion. By contrast, “All Hail Dracula” practically leaps out of your speakers in a hail of skirling guitars and drum clashes, planting its freak-flag firmly in irreverent and punky soil. It’s a mark of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s success on this album that both tracks are equally enjoyable despite their differences of opinion.
Three albums deep into their career, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin have accomplished something commendable with Let It Sway: it’s an album that sounds fresh and interesting that also keeps the fires of generational pop nostalgia burning brightly in a whole new setting.