[7 September 2011]
There are a lot of rabbits in the industry right now: White Rabbits, Frightened Rabbit, Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits. And now there’s Pepper Rabbit, the Los Angeles folk-pop duo of Xander Singh and Luc Laurent that walks in the minimalist footsteps rock laid this last decade. Together, they join the sudden onslaught of electronica-infused duos (Best Coast, Phantogram, Wye Oak, Sleigh Bells) that have become increasingly popular this year, with the majority of their sophomore effort comprised of Macbook-processed guitar and keyboards layered over synth drums. And although I realize there’s no other way for a duo to maintain a full sound without the help of beat machines (unless you’re Dan Auerbach or Jack White), am I not wrong to also think it’s a bit too much of overkill at this point?
It’s not that Pepper Rabbit are subpar based strictly on the current over-saturation of two-man bands, but more so that Singh and Laurent fall into that middle-of-the-pack area at which most projects in indie rock seem to flat line today: catchy first track, poppy single, maybe a track that got sent to Friday Night Lights or Vampire Diaries, but nothing steadfast beyond that. Like their other rabbit friends, Pepper Rabbit will have you enticed to buy their album after hearing the first four tracks on Spotify (like I did with Frightened Rabbit’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks and White Rabbits’ It’s Frightening), but after four or five listens and a likely burnout of select songs, my guess is you’ll find yourself digging for something new.
The height of Pepper Rabbit’s popularity rests in the voice of Xander Singh, which sounds more often than not akin to Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and at other times the Shins’ James Mercer. In light of the fact that both those bands are some of the biggest names in indie rock as of late, this wouldn’t seem like such a bad thing, but the problem for Singh lies in how definitive those two voices are today. Resembling them is like resembling Eddie Vedder; you can’t mistake them so much to the point that when you do, you can’t help but reject the band you’re actually hearing. It’s a double-edged sword considering most singers can’t help the voice they’ve been given, but Pepper Rabbit even channel on this album the same basic, production flourish-kissed pop that the Shins and Vampire Weekend achieve so brilliantly, so the correlation is all the more critically severe. In essence, Singh and Laurent merely make me wonder what Koenig and Mercer would have brought to the table on Red Velvet Snowball.
In comparison to last year’s debut, Beauregard, it goes without argument that Pepper Rabbit aimed for a much straighter and more commercial sound this time. The roller coaster ride of wide-ranging instruments that the duo originally brought listeners to doesn’t exist here, but at the same time, Snowball doesn’t feel like the band’s best effort. Although Beauregard was a hodgepodge of experimental instrumentation (minus the beautiful piano ballad “None Shall Sleep”), this new record sounds more like a band taking the simpler route to popularity. It’s more concise, but it’s also less inspiring than its debut. Singh’s musicianship doesn’t blow your hair back this time like Beauregard did.
Though the band hasn’t explained what the title necessarily infers, it sounds pretty dead-on to what listeners can expect of the 10 tracks. Though sweet and delicious at first, the aftertaste blisters you with shivering cold. Tracks such as “The Annexation of Puerto Rico” and “Tiny Fingers” don’t disappoint, but the other eight run their course quite quickly. And now that I’m thinking about it, even “red velvet” might be too sweet. 80% Cacao Dark Chocolate-Covered Snowball seems more accurate.