West Indian Girl: 4th & Wall

Photo: Lucy Hamblin

The band's "comeback" ends up sounding like a Twin Cinema-era New Pornographers relaxing after a couple of bong hits.

West Indian Girl

4th & Wall

Label: Northern Sky
US Release Date: 2007-10-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

Nothing can destroy a band like major-label politics. It’s bad enough for established acts, but just imagine how bad it is if you’re just getting your start.

West Indian Girl is the pseudonym of Robert James and Francis Ten, a psych/dance/rock outfit based out of L.A. After gathering a band together and signing with Astralwerks shortly after the new millennium broke, West Indian Girl seemed to be primed for success. However, this was not the case. Their eponymous debut landed in 2004 and was met with little acclaim or publicity. A dance-remix EP was released two years later, but no one was answering the Girl’s calls. Keyboardist Chris Carter left the group and soon the remaining band members found themselves dropped from Astralwerks altogether. Regrouping at their L.A. HQ, the band rekindled their sound into something more bubbly, signed with another label (indie stalwarts Milan), and released 4th & Wall at the tail end of 2007.

What’s unfortunate, however, is that despite the band’s good intentions, West Indian Girl 2.0 isn’t all that better than the original model.

A large part of this problem stems from the glossy hyper-production that dominates the album. The group has broke open the expansive atmospherics of their debut into a more homogenized club sound, bouncing bright live-instrument harmonies off of each other (as well as beautiful, well-placed female vocals). The result -- quite oddly -- ends up sounding like a Twin Cinema-era New Pornographers relaxing after a couple of bong hits. The band is still sharp and professional, but the album’s feel-good vibe dominates any notion of technical precision, instead focusing on sunny grooves moreso than actual songs. Opener "To Die in L.A." is a perfect example of this, gradually building upon the same verse-chorus loop by adding more synths, jangle guitars, and pretty vocal harmonies until they can add no more. "Sofia" feels more like a modern-day update of Boston’s rising-action pop songs, uplifting and only occasionally going out of the way to perform melodic acrobatics (though the operatic voice singing the opening notes of Pachabel’s Canon half-way through proves to be as jarring as it is inexplicable).

By themselves, the songs on 4th & Wall are fine. When coupled together on an album, however, the group winds up repeating the same trick over and over: bringing in another bouncy melody, decorating it with synth bubbles and unbearably bad lyrics ("I know there’s a world of space between / The stars are suns that ebb and flow the words we speak" from "Solar Eyes" is one such example), and calling it a day. When it’s hard to discern one song from another in shuffle mode, you know it’s a bad sign.

However, there are some bright spots to be found here, and they can all be found in the moments when the group actually slows things down. "All My Friends" -- which, sadly, is not a cover of the already-classic LCD Soundsystem song -- comes off as a slowed-down, acoustic recasting of New Order’s "Bizarre Love Triangle" (complete with a momentary tabla breakdown). "Up the Coast" has the bright chirping vibe of a Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips, and the druggy "Rise from the Dead" unleashes the darker side of the band that showed up much more prominently on their debut. These moments add a bit more character into a sunshine-filled album that knows little beyond the rays it casts.

4th & Wall is a good album, but far from a great one. By trying so hard to colorful all the time, West Indian Girl have lost sight of texture, making their album’s momentum plateau before they even hit the fourth track. To survive the major-label wranglings that they’ve gone through is nothing short of admirable. The only thing that would impress us more is by making the music more intriguing than the drama surrounding it.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.