Monday, March 22, 2010
Album: In the Court of Wrestling Let's
Rating: ******* (7/10)
I was bit surprised when I first heard British indie popsters Let's Wrestle had signed to Merge Records. Merge is certainly one of the best and most storied American indies, perhaps second only to Subpop (if that counts as "indie") and Matador. And while I adore Let's Wrestle, I didn't think them special enough for a label like Merge. Not in this country, anyway.
Now is when I would love to tell you their new album (out tomorrow) proved Merge's decision and revealed to me that special quality I'd been overlooking in the band for so long. But unfortunately, that's not the case. In the Court of Wrestling Let's is a lovely indie pop album with great little head-bouncing tunes, but it's not special. Merge could have picked any one of dozens of indie pop bands and achieved the same thing - something enjoyable.
In the indie pop world, Let's Wrestle keep a bit of lo-fi rough - not a lot, but enough to keep the band's distinctly indie flavor. In the same vein, it's got a pinch of punk in it, a little wildness. However, the melodies are pure pop. Wesley Gonzalez's plain, plateaued voice is subtly, warmly tuneful and it's his tone that gives the album its distinct identity in a world of similar ideas - too low and just too gruff to be boyish but far too untamed and too innocent to be adult.
As good as all the songs are, they pretty much sound alike. The same offkey high notes in the vocals, the same jangling guitar, the same major key measure-by-measure descents in the bass, the same tight, simple drumming. Many of the songs even seem to have the same melody. They don't quite, but the narrow range and similar contours make it hard to tell one song from another.
There are a few stand-out tracks though. "I'm in Love with Destruction" is distinct and memorable, its bombastic drumming and stretching ascents in the chorus setting it apart. The opening track, "My Arms Don't Bend that Way, Damn It!" starts with squalls of noise more reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr than the Smiths.
The final way in which this album distinguishes itself from the herd of noisy indie poppers is in its scale. A five-minute instrumental centerpiece of psychedelic guitar and several "interludes" give the album a sense of a larger purpose. And to the band's credit, these forays don't dilute the album. It has twelve proper songs in addition to these. Still, the effort may be wasted. The larger purpose is defeated by the cloneishness of so many tracks.
If you like a good cheerful, cynical, unpolished pop album, this is definitely a decent one. It's no better or worse than many others, but it's enjoyable and mixtape-able and it will hold down the fort until the next record of its type appears.