Put five songwriters side by side in one band and you've got a recipe for disaster . . . or brilliance, judging by Irving's 2002 debut, Good Morning Beautiful. That album had an eclecticism that was criticized as "unevenness" by every second critic, but count me in as one of the odd-numbered ones that considered it one of the best albums of the year. With a laidback demeanor befitting its California roots, the group brought together various strains of pop and rock from the last few decades, especially '60s-style psychedelic rock and pop (with hints of Elephant 6-style bohemian revisionism), lazy-afternoon country-rock, and electronics-inflected pop. On Good Morning Beautiful, Irving came off like it had more cards in its hand than it was showing, like it was capable of pulling off just about anything.
Irving's new EP, I Hope You're Feeling Better Now, gives the same impression on a much, much smaller scale. On an EP, there's simply less room to veer from style to style without getting listeners confused, so Irving feels a bit more reined in. But right from the first song, the band sounds as confidently erratic as ever, and just as capable of writing songs you'll be singing to yourself until you fall asleep.
The EP kicks off and ends with absolute showstoppers, and has three respectable, catchy pop-rock songs in between. The opening salvo is "The Curious Thing about Leather", a 7-minute song that starts out momentarily like it's going to be a Velvet Underground after-hours ballad, before a heavy-metal power chord kicks in, there's an abrupt shift, and we're brought headlong into a bouncy, sublimely melodic song that sounds like a surfer boy's sunny version of Sweethearts of the Rodeo, but with occasional blasts of power and a joyous horn section that chimes in at the end. The EP's closing track, "Please Give Me Your Heart, Is All I Need", is about half as long but just as charming a mish-mash of styles. Here you've got an earnest, mid-tempo love song alternating with its raunchier punk-rock cousin, with wild vocals from Nikki Colk of KaitO U.K. The song bounces back and forth between these two personalities like it's a battle of the bands (or a Grease-style dance-off), before they come together and call the song a truce.
The three songs in between are less schizophrenic but just as easy on the ears. "White Hot" has the same retro rave-up feeling as the Good Morning Beautiful single "L-O-V-E", and indeed both were produced by Andy Paley. "The Guns from Here" and "I Can't Fall in Love" are both winning exercises in "how catchy can we be?", fairly straightforward pop-rock songs that do just what you'd want such songs to do.
"White Hot" describes somebody who is "white hot" no matter what they do. So far, Irving are like that as a band. Its songs grab you with the way they take music history and condense it into a song you can really get into, but the more you listen the more they burn their way into you. Irving's a band more people should be paying attention to, but I have no doubts that their day in the sun is right around the corner.