What do you get when Pop East meets Pop West? Unsurprisingly, a highly-melodic affair of the heart.
Siddhartha Khosla is an international man of melody. Growing up in an Indian household, he was raised on the melodic vocalists of the Bollywood studio systems, immersed in a musical world where music was always subservient to the melodies of the vocalists. Then, as he tells the story, one fateful day when he was 14, Sid realized that you could flip the switch on his parents' stereo from "tape" to "radio" and encountered his first taste of Western music in the form of a selection from R.E.M.'s Green.
Setting out on his own after college to London, he spent some time learning to write and play. When his visa expired, he was kicked out of the country and decided to make his way back to the US, landing in Los Angeles, where he's spent the last seven years. Along this circuitous journey, Sid picked up a great deal of inspiration from the music he encountered along the way. Settling into LA, he met and befriended Egyptian-born musician Ramy Antoun (drummer for Seal, and on various session projects), who brought his own diverse cultural background to his music, and together the pair formed a songwriting partnership to flesh out the music that Sid had been writing since his time in London.
Despite being a studio project from the outset -- the members of the current Goldspot line-up include session musicians and an engineer on Tally of the Yes Men -- the fact that the group spent over a year working with Sid on the project means that as a band, the group have a tight-knit cohesion when playing live, which has paid off in recent outings in the LA scene. And while the assemblage may be manufactured, Goldspot remains anchored by Sid's role as frontman.
So what does a culturally diverse crew of songwriters and musicians create when they get together to write and record? In this case, melodic guitar pop music that rests somewhere on the fence between indie pop and radio-ready adult contemporary. And if anything, that might be the one thing that holds them back from widespread success.
Or maybe not. Despite the fact that it sounds for all the world like a trilling Michael Penn song (by no means a bad thing), Goldspot's first single release from the album is "Rewind", which wins over the listener through a simple repetition of an escalating melody and some softly chiming xylophone work under an acoustic/electric blend of guitars and drums. It's not groundbreaking, but it's immensely affable, and the comfortable familiarity of the song works in its favor; enough so that the simple pop tune became a regular staple on LA's KCRW-FM. And that simple ease might be what spells success for Goldspot's formula.
But Tally of the Yes Men is more than window dressing around a simple radio single. Opening with "Rewind", the first five tracks of the disc are all compelling on different levels. "Cusp" offers all the hints of Echo of the Bunnymen, "Friday" demands attention from the adult contemporary set, "The Guard" is a blueprint for North American lo-fi indie pop, and "Time Bomb" takes all of those elements and builds them into one of the album's highlights. The time spent in the studio working on these tracks shows in the details, which are well crafted and highly polished. That kind of studio gloss might turn off the potential hipster audiences, but it shouldn't. This album comes across as the product of meticulous attention to detail rather than allowing processors to suck the life out of the songs.
Ultimately, it's the balancing act that makes Tally of the Yes Men so compelling. Fans of Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse stand a good chance of being won over by "It's Getting Old" and "Motorcade", while it would take little more than a properly high rotation to turn a song like "The Feel Good Program of the Year" or even "The Assistant" into a minor hit in the minivan set. If that seems bi-polar or like a "sell-out", people should remember that the Cure have spent plenty of time in the Top 40. This is quite simply a solid album of slightly melancholic pop songs built around a solid core of vocal melodies and compelling instrumentation. What more do you need?