[24 January 2007]
How does a band become your new favorite band? How do melodies get stuck in your head? The combination of repetition and familiarity (recognizable chord progressions and melodic arcs or tropes) probably create some kind of “cognitive earworm” (this is not my phrase, believe it or not), which burrows in and repeats until we can’t stand it any more, or until we replace it with some other equally insidious tune.
Right now I’ve got this song off the Silent Years’ self-titled debut stuck in my head. Of course it’s not a whole song but a fragment—the part where the vocalist Josh Epstein flips up into falsetto at the end of the phrase “keep us warm” on “Someone to Keep Us Warm”. That song, the first single from The Silent Years, is a worthy cognitive burrower—to the accompaniment of Epstein’s carefully-employed, Chris Martin-like tenor, a ringing keyboard-and-guitar accompaniment builds from fragile to epic—but it’s the falsetto flip at phrase’s end that makes the whole thing special. The Silent Years aren’t particularly original, aren’t even particularly neat-packaged; but it’s moments like this (a number of them) that make their debut worth a listen.
This melodic indie rock, which sits comfortably between the Shins (pre-Wincing) and Tapes ‘n Tapes, recalls myriad other contemporary musicians and groups over the course of a standard 12 songs. “Someday” apes a title and a melody from different Strokes songs, but pulls it off by turning the jumpy tune into something more along the lines of Snow Patrol’s melodic rock. You could imagine Tom Waits singing “Devil Got My Woman”, but the Silent Years make it all their own, a jittering, trembling accompaniment to classical, soulful blues. And I don’t think lidocaine (or any analgesic)‘s ever been serenaded by such a sweet, sweet love song—at least not since Mr. E’s “Novocaine for the Soul”. But the Silent Years most often reminds one of is early Something for Kate. Many of these songs beat with the same vital feeling, the same battling desperation and beauty. Though S4K never made it big in the U.S. doesn’t mean their young heirs shouldn’t. And with a few blogs and MySpace and Spin behind them, why shouldn’t they?
I just felt the band could have made more of this—just more genuine beauty (not the smooth, FM-radio kind) and just more genuine angst. In those harder-hitting sections (the distortion in “This Town”, or for emphasis in “The Shark”), the guitars have been demoted in the mix, so that they sound less intrusive (the way in advertisements heavy metal anthems somehow seem benign); but the result is a somehow hard-to-shake feeling of fragility, almost insubstantiality.
But through subtly inventive songwriting this problem is really minimized to a grumble. In “Aisleways”, for example, the band shows just how effective exploding into full orchestral glory at chorus-time can be. And though they often use the quietly-plucked guitar arpeggio accompaniment for their verses, the instrumentation and harmony is varied enough that it never seems repetitious.
The Silent Years aren’t going to sell out any stadiums any time soon. But one of these songs may just find its way onto a mix CD you make for someone, and that song may just burrow its way like an earworm into that person’s head and they’ll be left wondering, “What others songs do those guys do?”