Does the world really need another Karen O. clone fronting a Blondie-influenced punk band?
Brooklyn-based quintet the Affair consists of Kali Holloway on vocals and guitar, Nelson Dellamaggiore on bass, Neel Arant on keyboards and guitar, Josh Leeman on lead guitar, and Marc Pattini on drums. After bouncing around the New York club scene for a couple of years, releasing a couple of singles on indie labels Vice Records and the UK’s Marquis Cha Cha, and conquering South by Southwest in Austin along the way, the band eventually signed with Absolutely Kosher (surprisingly, a California-based label) in 2006. Yes, Yes to You, their debut long player, was released early this year.
As I usually do before writing a review, I started out by reading the press release provided by the band’s publicist, then surfed to the band's website to check out some of the other press they’ve gotten for this, their debut album. Rarely does an album merit the breathless hyperbole dished out by the average publicist, and Yes, Yes to You is no exception (accordingly, the Affair is "dangerous and timeless, immoral and ecstatic, illicit and sultry, conflicted and pure").
On the other hand, it's rare to find a record getting such uniformly positive press. According to the band's website, publications as diverse as the San Francisco Weekly (in whose opinion the Affair writes songs that are "two- and three-minute marvels of economic construction" filled with "sharply memorable punk-pop melodic hooks"), The Hartford Courant ("the Affair reached beyond Velvet Underground and Talking Heads to the sounds of early-'60s girl groups and scruffy late-'70s rock. Think Ronnie Spector with a switchblade in her pocket and a pile of raw guitar riffs"), Playboy ("In creating its sassy lo-fi update of X-Ray Spex and early Blondie, this combo uses lots of toy-organ tones evocative of such deliciously amateurish protogarage acts as the Pop Tarts and Helen Love. Singer Kali Holloway is a star"), and Spin ("NYC quintet debuts with poppy, love-hardened rock anthems") have published glowing reviews of Yes, Yes to You.
So why don't I like this album more than I do? It's hard to say, honestly, because there's not one thing in particular I can put my finger on. It's partly because the production sounds a little tinny to my ears, and features vocalist Kali Holloway’s brassy alto a bit too prominently for my taste. Holloway has just a single speed, and I suspect she’d sound about the same whether singing about breaking up with her boyfriend or reciting her grocery list. It's also partly because I'm over the whole new wave revival movement. I mean, does the world really need another Blondie-inspired Karen O. clone fronting a new wave-influenced pop band?
That's not to say there aren't some things I like about this album. In particular, the band uses keyboard player Neel Arant effectively to complement, and sometimes to carry, their spare arrangements, echoing the Epoxies, Attractions-era Elvis Costello, and early Blondie. Both of the band’s early indie singles reappear here. On "Honey", Holloway sounds almost regretful as she sings "You’re like a dream, honey / You’d be so good for me"! "Andy" rather sweetly mines similar lyrical terrain (frankly, it wouldn’t sound out of place at a '50s-era sockhop), with Holloway rhapsodizing over a first date ("Andy, Andy, Andy, the first date was heavenly / In the movies on the balcony / When they dropped the lights"). But notwithstanding some of the disc’s more obvious charms, everything starts to sound kind of the same after a while -- it would be nice to see the band vary the tempos a little bit. Other highlights include "Tim's Song" and the Talking Heads-influenced "Anything But Disco (You Ruined My Life)". Your mileage may vary.