The Upshot: If you have any sort of weakness for the Eric Carmen/Big Star/Teenage Fanclub strain of swooning guitar pop, here’s your band.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
“I want to live where culture kills machines,” sings Andrew Griffiths in Felsen’s third full length album. Griffiths lives in the Bay Area, where the reverse is more or less true and where, as he puts it later in “Vultures on your Bones,” “junk technology is the new mythology.” Later Griffiths urges listeners to turn it all off and go into “Airplane Mode,” and he asked, in “Telepathic Kind,” “Do you ever want to unplug your life?” He seems fundamentally unconvinced about the personal digital revolution kicked off in his current home town – and ready to excise it from his life, relationships and music. Indeed, as the core of Felsen, Griffiths makes the kind of clean, smart, thoughtful power pop that one imagines of the pre-Internet age, guitar lines that cut clean through a velvety silence, drums that resound with gate-reverbed echo, the mournful buzz of cello, melodies that twist and curve and stick their landings.
Griffiths studied percussion in a serious way (Berklee) but turned to guitar and singing only after getting a diagnosis of cancer. That was three albums ago, so it seems he’s dodged the bullet, but his music nonetheless has a spiritual tilt to it, a clarity and joy and focus that it seems fair to attribute to surviving a near thing. He attacks his adopted instrument with glee and verve in the short instrumental intervals, raising a Jimmy Page-like racket in “Kung Fu Medallion,” and a surfy, Latin rockandroll swagger in “Spanish Jam Sandwich.” And his exuberance blows out the sails of the big chorus of “White Denim Jeans,” with its doubled vocals, a wall of guitars, drum fills that pop out of the mesh like ricocheting bullets. The song exudes positive certainty, the very opposite of feeling its way forward. It seems finished and sure and absolutely what it wants to be.
Lyrics are specific and rather clever, never more so than in the late album highlight “Unemployed in Chicago.” The song documents a down market period after college when Griffiths lived in the Second City, with its bubble pipe vibrato vocals, its sparse piano chords and a diverting tangle of words. (Sample lyrics: “I got drunk on a balcony, I sang like a valkyrie, unemployed in Chicago.” “That’s when I saw you/I didn’t know what I’d do with the hippie socialist Mary Poppins”) Yet even with about one unexpected cultural reference per line, and a sprinkling of difficult words, the lyrics never get in the way of the melody, which builds through the song, into a triumphant swagger. If you have any sort of weakness for the Eric Carmen/Big Star/Teenage Fanclub strain of swooning guitar pop, you’ll probably like Felsen, too.
DOWNLOAD: “Vultures on your Bones,” “Unemployed in Chicago”