Landlady: Upright Behavior

[14 July 2014]

By Dave Heaton

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Landlady’s debut album begins with a music-box-type melody that goes from pretty and innocent to something almost sinister, presaging the tone of Adam Schatz’s voice when he starts singing. Somehow his singing is at once gothic, hard-rock-y and shy on the song, “Above My Ground”. He repeats, “I wish that you were still around…” in a curious place in between theatre and introspection. Actually not in between, but both at once. His words seem confessional, heart-baring, in a way that on paper would without hesitation be described as “sincere”. Yet his singing is full-tilt colorful and a bit crazy, and the music matches that feeling. By the end of the song, it’s like a carnival has erupted.

Overall, the balance is between show business and intimacy, between surprise and steadfastness. The album is filled with both a pure kind of forward drive and a constant shifting around, styles and sounds jumping out like a jack-in-the-box. Any band they remind me of is shredded soon after it enters my thoughts, even as the memories linger.

Somehow they’re one of these bands that seems both startlingly new and in touch with a whole universe’s worth of previous bands. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Schatz, an NYC man about town who’s played with or palled around with numerous bands, has been taking bits from each and throwing them together. Yet this is clearly his own vision for what music can be. Everything is sort of in sync with genre and always pushing it away. “Maria” is vaguely Latin. “The Globe” sort of their version of an art-rock concept suite. “Washington State” has a blissful reverie section that’s almost classical.

The second track, “Dying Day”, is the perfect example of both the drive and the shifts. It starts out hopeful but steady, and then dives into a great lush melody that quadruples the impression of optimism, even as he seems obsessed with mortality: looking at his gray hairs and contemplating the end that they signify.  The song’s end breaks down into a weird primitive jam that consistently makes me feel like Schatz is about to either turn into David Thomas or Bruno Mars.

Mortality seems a dominant theme on the album, which really just means the album feels like it’s about actual life, because who among doesn’t have death in our brain all of the time? Or if not death, struggles against forces of life and death; Landlady frames those big themes in small, everyday-life ways. It all feels a bit cosmic and a bit domestic, and that’s not unrelated to the way they play the songs – both tightly focused and freewheeling.

The last song, “X-Ray Machine” strikes a weird note for me. It starts off with a bit of a surreal dream-song about swallowing someone and using an x-ray machine on his stomach. Then it takes a stranger, heavier, harder-to-figure out turn, as he persistently declares, “We are more than carnivores”. A diatribe about vegetarianism, a joyous metaphor for birth? Hard to tell, but as you’re trying to figure it out the song explodes into a resounding finale, for the song and the album, a brassy cacophony of sound. The way Landlady can explode with joy and strangeness puts them on some sort of a pedestal, right from their debut.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/183339-landlady-upright-behavior/