Here’s an impeccable mix showcasing powerful and simple arrangements. It’s pop music, not entirely unfamiliar but certainly a reliably satiating listen. The drums are large and clear, the guitars and bass guitar locked into both the groove and the emotion from one song to the next, and the vocals inhabit a space as unique as the voice itself. But is that enough these days? Can a band just write and record a solid batch of songs – real songs – without dressing it up or getting ironic?
I’ll Keep You will make you believe. Even including the intermittent synthesizers, this record sounds like a band (well, a band underneath a healthy sheen of crystalline production) and they sound like a band that means it. The use of synth, spare and discriminating, does not draw attention to itself with obvious emulations of the 80’s. It provides strange, lush dissonance to the title track, “I’ll Keep You.” In “We Only Talk in San Francisco,” they take on more melody and it’s smooth, square sequence pairs nicely with the insistent guitar.
The fact of the matter is this: there’s no challenge in this record. There’s nothing about it that is terribly experimental or that is not immediately approachable. Save for a few notable exceptions, not a single sound grates unusually on the ear, and alternatively – nothing is lost or scattered in the mix. As a listener I was able to immediately embrace the choice of guitar tones; the aura of the vocals; the warm presence of the bass guitar. Even so, the sound is not without distinctiveness.
Sounding like a conglomeration of existing artists – the best parts of those artists – is, indeed, one plausible way to achieve something new, but only if the intent is to explore what remains of the existing terra infirma on a much-peopled continent. I’ll Keep You includes it’s fair share of these moments. “No. 7” has a rolling, hushed aggressiveness that evokes the feeling of running: blood pumping, heart racing, and lungs icy-cold. At a minute-forty, the song breaks into a brilliant, eddying waltz – as though we had been conveyed to a massive waterfall via the river wild. Immediately following this chorus there’s an audible drone, like a train-horn blaring. It’s one of the few strange (although still sonically appropriate) moments on the album.
“I’ll Keep You” and “We Only Talk in San Francisco” are, in my view, the two strongest singles off the record, which usually means I stop listening to them first. But overall, the record has a fluid and consistent competence; measured and focused executions bring the simple arrangements to life. The performances are clean, but not inhuman. The machined quality of the record does not spoil the warmth or cold it emits.
“To Be Animal” is closer to a ‘deep album track,’ but it’s a rich and varied song, full of rewarding moments and a markedly dark mood. It’s a lovely and sweeping track, full of power and less conventional guitar tones than the record has offered thus far. The band has a good handle on the “pulse” of a song without succumbing to a straight four-to-the-floor beat. Whether intentional or not, I found the music physically moving. Not in the sense that I wanted to dance, per se, but rather that I felt my head, neck, shoulders, and my hands and feet responding to the chosen tempos; beats, breaks, and grooves. At times, the record can sound a little like it’s been grown in a lab.
“Multiples” is one of my favorite songs, beginning with a hypnotizing guitar phrase, distant cymbals, and a groaning bass line. It’s creepy in a conventional way, but evocative and intriguing. Layered guitars further in usher the song to it’s ass-kicking switching of gears. At a minute thirty-eight, the songs starts rocking. Biting guitar distortion, rumbling bass guitar. The drums are, as they have been throughout the record, huge. They roughly have the same shape and dimension in every song, but they found the right recipe so I wasn’t missing the element of variety so much.
The band has a talent for killer choruses and hooks that stay with you. They fire on all cylinders. There’s something traditional and fettered about that, to me, but on the same token it’s a testament to the seemingly flawless quality of this record. Can something be missing if nothing is missing? Not if it didn’t impede your ability to enjoy the listen. In my case, it didn’t.
There’s something deeply satisfying about the grid-like efficiency of this kind of rock, both in its concurrent truthfulness and artifice. Some might chalk it up to the influence of a metronome, but I look at it as being something larger; I look at it as an aesthetic. And more to the point, I’ll Keep You may not harken back to the 80’s or 90’s explicitly, but it does inhabit it’s own reality, rooted in some place and some time. The magic of this era in music that we all live in is that the listener can decide on those things for him or herself.