Tearing Down the Hyphen Between Pop and Rock
Yes, I know, I love short, succinct pop songs as much as anybody. Sometimes, I believe that the Ramones had the right idea by keeping all songs around the two-and-a-half minute mark. The longer songs go on, the more likely that the essential melodies — the melodies that make pop songs worthwhile — will either be buried or worn-out. On the other hand, the pop song structure can constrict songs that might deserve to sprawl out and take their own course. 20 Minute Loop, a band attempting to turn pop / rock back into a true genre rather than a dichotomy, point out the predictability of short pop songs in the lead-off track “Parking Lot”, a minute-and-a-half deconstruction of the type of songs that 20 Minute Loop has no need for: “Chorus, bridge, verse, and solo, / Stringing hooks along the shoreline”.
20 Minute Loop take most of their songs to the dangerous four-to-five minute mark, too long to be a simple pop song but not enough time to create a breathtaking epic. These songs have the freedom to roam into adventurous sonic territory. Most of the tracks end, not in mindless repetition of a catchy chorus, but in long instrumental stretches where the twin guitars of Greg Giles and Joe Ostrowshi break out of the structure of the song and go on freewheeling adventures. By focusing on the “rock” aspect of indie-rock, 20 Minute Loop are able to differentiate themselves from their peers. This is a band unafraid to display their classic rock leanings — which, as Sleater-Kinney realized on their last album, may be the most punk rock thing possible in today’s music climate. The highlight of Yawn + House = Explosion might be in the final two minutes of “Our William Tell”, a dazzling, handclap-fueled call-and-response between the two guitars and Helly Atkins’s keyboards that recalls the glory days of Television.
20 Minute Loop manages to incorporate this rock and roll indulgence while still retaining the kind of surefire pop smarts that other straightforward power-pop bands could envy. The singing combination of Giles and Atkins provides the melodic base for the band’s assault. Giles’s understated whining is aptly complemented by Atkins’s booming voice, an interplay that has garnered comparisons to X, despite the fact that the two bands have nothing else in common. Atkins, in particular, has a voice that combines the breezy joy of the Sundays with the ferocious power of Neko Case. Even when the entire band works on creating a sonic wall of sounds, like on the roller coaster “Book of J”, Atkins is able to break through the din with her piercing wails: “You’re not so heavy or tortured or comfortable or totally distinct!”
Which brings us to the lyrics, which as the example above shows, are a cut above the standard power-pop musings. Giles and Atkins do not create stories, but rather hint at oblique situations in such a manner that the listener never gets a full understanding of the subject matter. “Book of J”, which takes its title from controversial scholar Harold Bloom’s study of the Hebrew Bible, jumps between a crying girl, the arrival of Jehovah himself, and a scene with children waiting for a basketball game. “Miriam Hopkins” starts with a plea for a story with the caveat “Please don’t divulge all the details”, an ironic commentary on the band’s indistinct scene setting. Maybe this is the influence of Henry James, name-checked on the pure pop “Ambassadors”, where the narrator abandons himself to James’s difficult novel The Ambassadors in order to avoid dealing with a painful break-up. Although overshadowed by 20 Minute Loop’s pop craftsmanship and stellar instrumental prowess, the lyrics contain enough nuance to keep this Lit. major intrigued.
On Yawn + House = Explosion, 20 Minute Loop establish themselves as something of a triple threat, a band that knows how to create memorable pop hooks, gripping instrumental breaks, and intriguing lyrics. They even know how to do a short, quirky pop song now and then, as “It’s Time to Honor Ghouls” and their horn-drenched cover of Bob Mould’s post-punk classic “I’ll Never Forget You” prove. Although the album doesn’t have any of those jaw-dropping songs that can elevate a really good album to a great album, Yawn + House = Explosion suggests that the band is on pace to create something truly memorable.