[20 February 2005]
Just last night, while driving alone on the busy streets of Melbourne, Robbers on High Street’s debut LP Tree City was playing on the car stereo. Feeling just a tad lonely in the midst of the hustle and bustle surrounding me, albeit with the album keeping me company, I was pondering a critical conundrum—if an indie band sounds like the indie bands that had went before it, do I as a reviewer, trace the influences back to the original sources of these indie bands’ sound, or am I merely content to just namedrop these bands without delving too deep into the surface?
Let me explain—Robbers on High Street sound a whole lot like other indie bands out there. There is a healthy dollop of fellow New Yorkers Interpol hiding somewhere beneath the sonic olla podrida, less- bombastic traces of the Arcade Fire, and even elements of Maroon 5 stripped of their Billboard Top 500 smugness. A can of worms is potentially opened when we in turn cite their respective influences, which includes luminaries like the Talking Heads, Joy Division, Radiohead, etc. It also doesn’t help that they have incorporated the riffology of the Kinks and the Rolling Stones and the melodiousness of the Beatles somewhere into the combustible mix.
Perhaps Tree City is best enjoyed when it is stripped of the weight of its influences, and consumed as it is because, well, these fellas do rock with an attitude all their own.
The opener “Spanish Teeth” is a corker of a potential single, starting with the blaring of trumpets in prelude to an explosion of joyous dancability that may not be flamenco in music but in spirit. The song sets the tone for the Robbers on High Street template, with the infectious staccato downward guitar strokes that scream garage band greatness, a loud-soft dynamic mastery hardly seen outside the Pixies/Nirvana circle, and a frontman’s voice that at once channels the weepy wisp of Win Butler and Chris Martin and Lynyrd Skynyrd filthy grizzly veteran rock ‘n’ roll band attitude.
Tree City consists of thirteen tracks of tightly-wound, musically-literate passion from musicians who themselves are conscious of the awesomeness of their output.
However, if the unenviable task of selecting highlights must be done, then these few do spring to mind. One of which is “Beneath the Trees”, a slow doom-and-gloom piece that recalls the Americana murder ballads of yore, supplemented with more 21st Century instrumentation. “Love Underground” has Franz Ferdinand-like propulsing fuzzy guitars in the beginning but time warps into something nostalgically pop-tastic, a special item that may have come out of the Kinks’ catalogue. Closer “Montifiore” is a worthy addition to those ironic/tragic “this-is-a-happy-day” songs, with the immersion of its brooding arrangements and desolate atmospherics making both the Lightning Seeds and Lou Reed proud.
Again, just last night, I was braving the drunken weekend clubbing crowds. Navigating the potentially deadly revelry with mah’ trusty old Ford, Robbers on High Street have become my friends. Their thousand words of song have painted a picture for me to rest on, a portrait of urban ennui. Like my other similarly melancholic mates Interpol, Tree City is for the lonely among us. It is emo minus the snotfacedness, indie without the pretension—darn good music that pierces your sorry existentialist soul from a darn good up-and-coming band who truly knows how.