Monday, September 20, 2010
Album: Ghost Fits
Rating: ******* (7/10)
Sisters, a poppy, fuzzy noise punk duo out of Brooklyn's Death By Audio family, piqued my interest at a spirited show at loft space Dead Herring House last year, and won my heart at the second show I attended. Drums'n'guitar duos aren't exactly a rare breed these days. Starting with the White Stripes' bold embrace of raw minimalism around the beginning of the 2000's, the theory that you only really need two people to make noisy songs (outside of electronica) has become increasingly tested and confirmed by bands like California's No Age, the similarly named Japanther and Japandroids and Sisters' associates (via Death By Audio Records) Jeff the Brotherhood. The considerable force of personality and exuberant energy needed to make a two-man band really pop, along with the sloppy, joyous freedom endowed by a simple two-part arrangements, makes these bands the most energetic and youthful sounding of the times.
Sisters is no exception. There is something distinctly untamed and young about them, and while it can be hard to capture this spirit in the studio, Ghost Fits succeeds remarkably well. Much of that has to do with the frenetic, spastic (yet spot-on) drumming of Matt Conboy, a tall, wild-haired man who at live shows dwarfs his bare-bones drumset. Aaron Pfannebecker's lo-fi guitar and youthful melodies jump on top of Conboy's reckless, crashing beats like a cowboy on a bronco. Bands with more members must play "tightly" and are commended for doing so. However, the two-part arrangements of Sisters allow for a looseness that has all the sloppy trappings of pure joy.
Ghost Fits is a collection of well-written pop gems, each boasting a catchy, unrefined melody. Among two-man bands of their style, Sisters may come closest to No Age; both bands display a remarkable depth of sound drawn mysteriously from a single guitar. Sisters' sound may not be as rich as No Age - their music is a little rawer - but there is a delicious lot of noise and no thin-sounding moments or uncomfortable gaps. (Granted, Sisters, unlike No Age, do use prerecorded tracks to cover more than two parts on occasion.)
Many of the songs are somewhat reminiscent of Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth, albeit in a less-than-obvious way. Pfannebecker builds many non-key chords on those open fourths and sweetly discordant harmonies famously explored by Sonic Youth, and even uses a similar clean, ringing tone in quieter moments. Meanwhile, Pfannebecker's melodies follow similar heartfelt flat-falling contours to Moore's more uptempo works.
It's difficult to pick highlights from the album; the consistency of the songwriting is remarkable. Centerpiece "Highway Scratch," with its bright, toy-keyboard melody, has been floating around for a while and remains one of the band's most lovable songs (which is saying something). Perhaps the record's most complex song, "Courthouse" doesn't lose momentum, even as it drifts away from a standard pop format. "Leaving Home," near the close of the album, features the deep whammy pitch-shifts of Isn't Anything-era My Bloody Valentine, with the chords bending in and out of key under one of the album's most creative melodies. At second-to-last, "Visions" is another winner, flipping between a tense, hushed, Sonic Youth-y verse and a crashing, thick and straight-forward chorus.
But the beginning of the album is just as strong, with simple treats like the opening track "The Curse." Sewn together with an earworm of a melody, the song points towards traditional lo-fi bands like Pavement, but with its 2010-style delighted simplicity, it entirely avoids sounding like a 90's throwback. The warm, technicolor "Glue" is even more irresistible, while the full-bodied "Sky" kicks the album's intensity up a notch (but still keeps it fun).
The soft, sweeping roar of the closing track, while not the strongest song on the album, does give it a sense of scope and completion. Although the catchiness of the songs almost makes this sound like a singles collection, it all adds up to a coherent LP. Throughout the record runs a current of youthful, openhearted sincerity. Sisters are refreshing in their almost naive simplicity - their sound is multidimensional enough but they hide behind nothing; they really mean it. Ghost Fits was made with love and it shows.