By: Dave Kender
Upon first listening of The
Standard's August, you're going to swear you've heard
these songs before, even though you probably haven't. That's because
their second full-length album carries a bit of everything great
in non-radio rock right now.
Coming out of the indie
rock fallout of the Pacific Northwest, the Portland-based five man
troop seems determined to forgo their predecessors' penchant for
hurried punk pop. They explore every inch of their songs with a
grab bag of electronics. Take, for instance, Five Factor Model,
which begins with a simple, catchy synthesizer line. Your fingers
are already bouncing against your leg. Then, of course, comes the
requisite crunching guitar and clean, 4/4 drums. But a third of
the way through the song, the band suddenly pauses, and you hang
on a precipice of silence before plunging headlong into something
far more complex and fascinating.
The Standard has discovered,
like so many bands in the post-The Bends era, the practice
of layering. Not in the classic, Phil Spector more-is-more sense,
but with an exacting patience that allows them to build a varied
and subtle soundscape within each song. They understand the value
of production and have taken full advantage of their new relationship
with Chicago's Touch
and Go label.
So much of the appeal
hangs in the space between the notes, where Jay Clarke's delicate
keyboard and Tim Putnam's meticulously cracked vocals allow for
the weight of melancholy to sink in. And melancholy they are, calling
to mind the mind the more measured moments of Modest Mouse and Shipping
News, another band in the Touch and Go/Quarterstick family.
Yet, all the high-end
equipment in the world can't save a band that doesn't have, at its
core, solid song writing. And here, once again, The Standard shines
through, snatching the album from the jaws of monochromatic emotion
by infusing experimental rhythms and exceptionally captivating lyrics.
Paper, with a Tortoise-like, world beat feel manages to relate
a tale of lost love without a hint of irony, an all-too-common downfall
of indie rock.
The strongest track is
the closer, The Quiet Bar. A piano-driven ballad that slowly
entwines a rich tapestry of instrumentation, it's everything you
might love about Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, but with the knowledge
that this is a band still on their way up. It's a faint memory
/ of a distant life / One that we could forget / With a drink and
a line / And everything that I took down with him / Eventually came
back to me again.
Long after you reach
the close of the forty-five minute record, those final lines continue
rolling over your ears and leaving you with high hopes for their
Kender lives on Earth (currently), where he writes things that interest
him and a small group of fellow weird people, including comic books.
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org