As a long winter cedes to an early spring, as youthful protests give way to heating bills, it’s the right time of year for melancholy. And in a place where Simon & Garfunkel meet Bob Dylan at an Occupy Wall Street rally, you’ll find the Boston-born duo You Won’t.
Almost defiantly simple, more bedroom than baroque, vocalist Josh Arnoudse and drummer Raky Sastri have come up with the perfect post-winter pop album, full of lovely, retro riffs with a modern, mournful streak. True, there’s not much variety on Skeptic Goodbye, the band’s debut, and at times it feels deliberately underdone, but that’s part of its threadbare charm. If it sounds rough and unfinished, unsure and new — well, that’s to be expected. If anything, in an era of over-production, it’s to be commended. Charming despite themselves, with the vocals and tunes of a pre-electric Dylan, these two boys have created an album that feels as expansive as it is contemplative.
Lead single “Three Car Garage” is a standout track in an album with few singles; overall it’s an series best listened to in one sitting, as the winter sun sets. Opening with the joyful wailing of a child, “Three Car Garage” backs up its tale of suburban ennui with a strident beat, plaintive vocals, and a killer hook. While the admittedly shoddy production is part of Skeptic Goodbye’s charm, “Old Idea” in particular echoes with the chords of a tune recorded in a best friend’s basement. “Fryer” is almost too lovely, so soft and delicate it makes you crave an edge, a hint of brutality to counteract the sweetness. But then again, it seems awfully pretty to complain about too much of a good thing. The same goes for “Who Knew”, the album’s true highlight, with its enduring promises of love that balance the saccharine and the sarcastic. “If I was a ghost in your halls / I would haunt you and walk through your walls at night”, Arnoudse growls. “But I’m flesh and I’m bone and I’m stiff as a stone”.
It’s that same delicacy that makes the T. Rex riffs on “Dance Moves” seem so incongruous. But that’s the problem with simplicity: When you throw in a hint of richness, it’s overwhelming. Something akin to finding foie gras in a salad – not what we were expecting. Elsewhere, other flourishes bring a hint of glamour to the proceedings, such as the gospel clapping on the rousing “Television”. In the split between simplicity and grandeur lies a glimpse of what You Won’t could be.
As a debut, Skeptic Goodbye offers that sweet and terrifying vertigo of watching a band choose their next move. You Won’t could fade away in a heartbeat, or they could take their raw potential and shape it into critical and commercial triumph. Well, critical triumph at least. It’d be disingenuous to suggest that the band had many hopes beyond the fringes of BK. While they’ve faced more than a few comparisons to Vampire Weekend, You Won’t lacks the sunny accessibility of that band. They’re too eccentric, too defiantly lo-fi. And they seem perfectly content with that.
These boys might as well belong to a newfound genre of Recession-pop: simple, stripped-down, melancholic but utterly resilient. It’s in the mournful album closer “Realize” that we hear the truest echoes of a post-Occupy disillusionment: “Wasn’t there gonna be a riot somewhere? Wasn’t there gonna be a fiery fight?” With the resignation of someone much older, sounding like a post-accident Dylan, Arnoudse halfheartedly admits, “Cast aside all my troublemaking notions / and sailed for the sedentary life in the meadow / where we struggled in the old days”. Disillusionment never sounded so moving.