BY JASON GROSS
This NYC crew never has (and probably won’t) the rep of other millennium Gotham faves like the Strokes or TV on the Radio but that’s probably because their mix of indie rock and indie pop is much more subtle and sweet. After a catchy 2009 debut, they followed up with the usual round of grueling touring and come up with the glummer but still strong (and underrated) follow-up Belong in 2011.
Now firmly planted in the pop camp, their third album is a lot airier and lighter than their previous albums and while they still know how to do catchy, it feels like they’re trying much too hard to be likable and liked, which is a cute way to say that they want a bigger audience.
Singer/writer Kip Berman still runs the show but original member/singer/keys-player Peggy Wang is missed now- though he still corals the boy-girl mix of vocals, it’s not as effectively as before. On the first two records, Berman & Wang complimented each other nicely on the bouncy tunes. Here, Berman and assorted helpmates bounce along but usually not so the songs grab you or stick in your head anymore or where you could just get dragged into their lithe songcraft and jangly momentum.
It’s a little too smoothed out and indistinct now – most of the songs are well crafted but a little TOO well crafted. The excitement’s mostly gone and the dreamy mood is a too light-headed to make an lasting impression or call you back for more- think of how Rilo Kiley ended up in the land of 70’s MOR but here it’s a little more 80’s or 90’s MOR (heavy synths, crystalline production, corals of voices), which isn’t necessarily an improvement.
Still, it’s not unlistenable- Berman knows to write pleasant enough material and if you heard any of this on some top 40 station, you probably wouldn’t rush to switch it off. “Beautiful You” recalls some of shoegaze’s glory and occasionally, they remember their indie roots, even with the polished production attached, on faster, punchier songs late in the record like “Until the Sun Explodes” “Masokissed” (love that title).
Look- no one should begrudge them a career but if they have to smooth their sound into mush, maybe they don’t really deserve it right now.
Here’s hoping they get back to their roots.
DOWNLOAD: “Beautiful You,” “Until the Sun Explodes”