Monday, October 19, 2009
Paper Bag, 2009
Rating: ******* (7/10)
Little Girls first came to my attention last summer when the mythical "Jasper" saw them live and told me they were the shit. I saw them for myself twice, and it quickly became apparent why they were associated with Mike Sniper's Captured Tracks label early on - Mike Sniper (a.k.a. Blank Dogs) is the only other band around making this type of nervous, lo-fi, gothy post-punk. Like Blank Dogs, Little Girls is mostly a solo project, this one of Josh McIntyre, a high-strung youngster from Toronto whose influences span from no wave to hip-hop.
Concepts is a spooky album that does well capturing the band's tense energy - and it's this tense energy that sets the band apart from its peers and makes it worthy of note. On the opening track, "Youth Tunes," the vocals are almost completely inaudible, warning us that McIntyre will be speaking from a dark and distant place. The vocals never really come above the surface on the whole album, so though the press release says the album is about coming of age, the listener's only real clues are the song titles.
Following "Youth Tunes," the ominous mix continues with the atonal, reverbed vocals of "Seeing." "Tambourine" is the first semi-accessible song, with a great riff and vocals, but we don't leave the minor scales until "Imaginary Friends," a tune that manages to be simultaneously upbeat and sinister. The tightly wound, repetitive "Venom" is something of a mess, with the instruments and vocals seemingly fighting for control of the rhythm. [Update: it just occured to me that I should have indicated that comment on "Venom" is a compliment. (11/6)]
However, there are some questions of originality. The dramatic melodies of "Salt Swimmers" and "Thrills" are distinctly familiar - I'm almost positive I've heard the latter in some sort of musical theater or soundtrack. This may be more reference than accident, showing a refusal to be held back from dramatics by any typical indie rock sense of self-consciousness. It's a bold move, but I'm dubious that this was the best way for the band to display their lack of self-awareness.
Moreover, the Joy Division influences are undeniable, and at times a little overboard. "Concepts" has almost the same bass riff as "Disorder" and "Last Call" also borrows more than a few notes from Bernard Summer and Peter Hook. The similarities don't ruin the music, by any stretch, but it is a bit disappointing if you're looking for something new.
The songwriting in general leaves a bit to be desired. Repetition is clearly a part of Little Girls' craft, as is their anticlimactic composition, but the songs sometimes stagnate too much, crossing that thin line from expressing a dark ennui to being, well, a little boring. I appreciate short, simple songs, instead of cramming a million ideas into a single track, but here it sounds a little underdeveloped.
Still, all in all, Concepts is an electrifying album and shows a band with great promise. The uneasy darkness of all eleven tracks demonstrates McIntyre's rare ability to translate emotion into sound, making an indescribable anxiety palpable in the music. However, the band is young and this album wants for maturity in many instances. Of course, the rawness adds to the excitement in a way, but it also frustrates. The unsophisticated songwriting makes this album seem far more trifling than it actually is. However, McIntyre's sharp sense of pop, his innovative ideas about sound, and most of all, his sincerity are unmistakable. He's the real deal.
"Growing" makes a warm closer, as though the tensions of the album have found a little peace. But despite the major key, it's not a happy peace. It's a lullaby for the darkest of hearts, a resignation without resolution and a testament to the secrets told, if never explained, on the previous ten tracks of the record.