It's always nice to make new friends. The American Princes let their guard down and kill us with kindness.
It's getting harder to find rock records that just want to be your friend. It seems like they've all got hidden agendas; some want to warp your mind, some wish to upset and offend, many simply aim to give you the largest and most painful black eye they can offer. The people at Yep Roc Records, however, seem to have their fingers on the pulse of this issue; Paul Weller's As Is Now was the best rock and roll album of 2005 because it succeeded in being both charming and amiable without sacrificing any of its badass edge. At this point in 2006. Yep Roc has replicated that achievement with Less and Less, the outstanding new record from American Princes.
Less and Less is a record that sinks in immediately and deepens with each further listen. It's what rock is meant to be, a music that you feel all over -- in your bones, your joints, your head, and your heart. It doesn't challenge with pretensions, but neither does it presume to insult intelligences by oversimplifying itself. It's a fantastic collection of catchy songs, produced in a manner that brings their most musical elements to the forefront without causing it to sound calculated or manipulated. Quite simply, it's everything I ever look for in a good pop-rock album.
Much of the credit goes to vocalists David Slade and Collins Kilgore, whose melodic inclinations are so complementary that it took me a press kit to even realize that they were two separate individuals. This is not to suggest that the voices are uniform and therefore generic; what it means is that both vocalists are so in tune with the intents and vision of the group that they just know inately what the songs are supposed to do. Each song boasts a series of unique individual moments that will cause an attentive listener to simply sit back and smile at their tunefulness; the Princes seem to boast an impressive understanding of which notes, when placed on top of which chords, will make their songs most memorable, always working a few more notes in there to add minor complexities to what the listener would expect to find. As a result, Less and Less is forever comfortable and always familiar, but never unsurprising or bland.
Songs like "This Is the Year" and opener "Stolen Blues" lunge with the bedlam of the better Dismemberment Plan albums, combining bratty punkishness with affecting musicality, while softer numbers like "Annie" and closer "You and Me" flutter about like Britpop, while tactfully placed guitars and ambient keyboards frost the heartfelt lyrics with technicolor. Lead guitarist Kilgore understands subtlety; the guitar licks never hide themselves, but not once do they steal the spotlight from the songs themselves. Instead, the riffs serve as melodic stimulation in the absence of the vocals, as transitional interludes between verses and choruses, between verses and verses. Like everything else here, they are perfectly in place, and always ideally imagined.
The penultimate track, "Chaos Control", is the only song here I found a bit irritating, due to some off-putting vocals and a musical arrangement less engaging than the songs that sandwich it, but this is a minor quibble; twelve of the 13 songs here had me grinning earlobe to earlobe with the same fire that a kid feels when he's first discovering the world through rock and/or roll. And that's ultimately what Less and Less is about; it's about something that lights a fire underneath you, something that makes you want to bob your head up and down, something that makes you want to get up and jump around. And what with all the rock albums I've met that have tried to warp my mind, offend me, and hit me, I'm proud to call Less and Less my best new friend of 2006.