Under the Radar: First Impressions Make All the Difference
When Little Tybee’s Building a Bomb (Self-released) showed up in the UTR mailbox, we desperately hoped it would be good. Not enough bands submitting music to these pages take the time to consider the impact of truly good album art and packaging; Little Tybee has nailed it with a custom, eco-friendly fold-together number that simultaneously recalls an architectural blueprint and a children’s pop-up book. A small amount of investigation reveals that the copy sitting on our desk is a hand-made, one-of-a-kind original, as are all copies of the album. First impressions make all the difference, folks.
Imagine our relief when the proverbial pages of the book matched its excellent cover. Building a Bomb is quite an accomplishment. Following on the heels of their debut EP I Wonder Which House The Fish Will Live In, the band’s first full-length confidently expands on its initial offering with a collection of songs that stick with a similar instrumental palette (acoustic guitar, violin, percussion and loops, electric bass) while hopping around an impressive number of styles ranging from ‘60s country-pop of the title track to the fugue-ish reflection of “Spell Check His Eulogy.”
There are not a lot of obvious touch points for Little Tybee’s particular blend of atmospheric pop. Imagine Sigur Rós meeting up with High Llamas (circa 1998) for English lessons before heading off to L.A. to be produced by Donald Fagan—or perhaps The Waterboys reaching a few important conclusions over a pot of tea with Wilco. Vocalist Brock Scott’s pinched delivery contracts and expands into a swelling falsetto on a moment’s notice, delicately dancing with Ryan Gregory’s violin like two birds circling each other in an Autumn sky.
Like many good albums, Building a Bomb has a sense of a very particular time and place to it, as if it were composed, performed and recorded in one room over a weekend on top of some distant, snow-covered mountain top or, perhaps, in a ramen-littered studio apartment. Little Tybee successfully creates its own musical vernacular, something light and intangible between the way that Scott pronounces certain words, the inherent swing of the rhythm section or the brief, unexpected key changes that pop up here and there like rabbits out of their holes. Building a Bomb feels like one of the more significant discoveries of the year; be sure to buy your own individual copy and to treasure it, always.
It is not easy to tear ourselves away from Little Tybee, but the insistent melodic pounding of Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears’ Mad Valentines (Simian/Old Flame) must be addressed. BS&TST are the next evolution of power pop, that dreaded genre generally associated with men of a certain age, nodding along in the fifth row, arms crossed, Jellyfish t-shirts draped over swollen bellies. Mad Valentines reframes Queen, ELO and the Kinks in a context that could be ironic if not injected with a level of passion, technical prowess and attention to detail that implies utmost seriousness. Besides, songs like “The Garden Eleanor” and “Maria St. Claire” are far too well-written and arranged to be anything but calls-to-arms for the tired, wearied fans of bubblegum heretofore left to wander in the desert.
We are now halfway through our second listen to Clare And The Reasons new album Arrow (Un Disque Frogstand) and still can’t figure out why we like it so much. To be sure, there is a whole lot of watered-down Regina Spektor-quirkery out there right now, clogging up our night-time soap operas, our lifestyle advertisements. It makes us wonder why Joan Jett had to go. But we can’t lump Clare And The Reasons in with this corporate drivel, and here’s why: Oliver Meachon. The Frenchman arranges the songs on Arrow in a buoyant style that allows Clare’s voice, part Nina Persson, part Edith Piaf, to lilt and dally like a champ. Beds of strings, choirs, woodwinds, … it could all be another night out in Bushwick except for the endearing quality of songs like “Kyoto Nights” and “You Getting Me.” Keep walking that fine line between the Left Bank and The Gap, Clare. Someone has to do it.
David Mead is a recording artist and amateur journalist living in Nashville, Tennessee. His opinions on music have appeared in American Songwriter, Paste and Dog Fancy. His songs have been used in numerous feature films, television shows and a cat food commercial in Malaysia. His latest album, Almost and Always, is out now via Cheap Lullaby Records.