Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pop, but with something else.

Internet connectivity issues (or, in other words, something that crapped out in the AT&T box outside my house) prevented me from getting to this right away, but still, better late than never, or something.

Saw The Broken West and Wye Oak at Cafe Nine on Tuesday (Sept. 23), with Aeroplane, 1929 also on the bill. The Broken West and Wye Oak are both relatively recent (well, within the past couple years) signees to Merge Records, one of a small handful of labels whereby I'll check out whatever they release. Merge specializes in acts that play what I've called "pop, but with something else." In the case of The Broken West, this meant, on their first album, I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, a rootsy approach to power-pop, and on their most recent, Now or Heaven, a more urbane and immediate and modern indie-zeitgeist-baiting sort of sound. In the case of Wye Oak, this means, on their full-length If Children, a moderately folksy leaning with some shoegazerish elements.

Suprises abounded. I knew Wye Oak had a way with a delicate melody and with a dynamic of atmospheric building-up and release, but I didn't expect them to rock so hard. Singer Jenn played electric guitar throughout, which allowed the duo to shoot off into the noise-pop stratosphere with some frequency. Drummer Andy also played a keyboard with one hand, filling in these seemingly phantom bass lines. The sound was strikingly full for a two-piece.

Meanwhile, The Broken West were brighter-sounding and more forceful than I'd expected. Their newer material in particular shone with big hooks and a pronounced sense of purpose. If there was something celebratory about their set, it might've come from the fact that two members of the band (who are based in L.A.) grew up in Branford -- guitarist Dan even introduced the band as "The Broken West, from Branford, Connecticut." In the audience, brothers and sisters and cousins and parents and maybe even grandparents were in full force. Gotta bring it for the fam. It's appropriate, then, that after their set, singer/guitarist Ross explained the band had felt compelled to deliver something appropriately killer once they'd signed to Merge (several months after recording and initially releasing their first album), a label he described as "like a family." Glad they pulled through, both live and on the record.

Locals Aeroplane, 1929 opened, and I'm personally rather excited by how much this band has matured in just the last year and a half or so (they're still quite young, with a few key members of the band still in college or even high school -- in fact, bass player Jake joked about his surprise at seeing one of his bandmates drinking a beer "because I'm, like, ten"). Often wordy and folk-rockish, they might've once been best described as a band that must've been listening to whatever Okkervil River was listening to, but their newest material is more tuneful than wordy, more urban than country and given to unorthodox song structures where, on occasion, the coda, not the chorus, is the emotional and dynamic apex.

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