I remember first hearing about Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. It was purely related to the band’s ridiculous name, and I never listened to ‘em. So I missed their debut Broom on the first pass. Their name started popping up again in blogs and whatnot; apparently they had a new album on the way. I checked out a tune. Then I watched a clip, something that appeared to be a homemade promotional vid for the new album (here). I was intrigued by the young band’s enthusiasm, shenanigans and the video’s DIY aesthetic, not to mention the catchy-as-hell backing music. Plus that baby in there is awesome. I had to have this album.
Seems the band was named as a joke in ’99 when Yeltsin resigned as Russia’s president, back when Phil Dickey and Will Knauer were in high school in their proud hometown of Springfield, Missouri. The band materialized in 2002 when Dickey met John Robert Cardwell in college. Broom, recorded by the band and originally released on the Generic Equivalent label (the band’s made-up label) in 2005, found its way around the internet and in 2006 the band signed to Polyvinyl who re-released the album.
SSLYBY bring a pop-rock sound not much unlike Weezer’s less fuzzy fare. Think “Island in the Sun” and keep the cheery feel-good sonics and subtract the formulaic structure that Cuomo fell into post-Pinkerton. “Glue Girls” opens the album with Cardwell and Dickey trading lines, yet they break a basic pop rule: They don’t beat you over the head with the chorus. Instead, the tune forays into first a cowbell-and-bass driven bridge, then a tom-heavy bridge, then a powerful more fuzzy and vocal-layered outro. They only give you the sweet chorus (“Maybe if I lay low / Love will fall around my door…”) one-and-a-half times! Guess I need to listen to it again, huh?
That kinda sums up this album, but don’t stop there. It’s chock full of simple pop songs that are sneakily not-so-simple, going many unexpected -- yet satisfying -- directions within 3½ minutes. I’ve had “Think I Wanna Die” lodged in my brain since this album arrived in my mailbox in its bubble-padded vessel. This song is like crack. Deceivingly depressing in title and with some bizarre lyrics (see "Marimbas made from the bones of our relatives" and "you dreamt of sex with tigers"), it’s basically about girl troubles and is my current frontrunner for ‘Catchiest Song of the Year.’ And while it has a Ramones-light bit with fun ‘hey's and verses that find Cardwell attacking with a tone not far from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, in the end it’s just the best pop song Ben Kweller wishes he penned.
While Broom was gloriously lo-fi, Pershing is still self-recorded but smoothes out the proceedings while keeping the no-frills approach with the vocals rightfully at the focus. They add some new textures, so whereas their debut was a very dry unaffected album, the bridge of “The Beach Song” finds a fluid reverb-heavy sound on guitars and a bit of echo on the vocals.
I read many reviews for Broom that compare it to full-band Elliott Smith and I think I could see that, with its acoustic guitar focus and whispery vocals. But with Pershing, they shed that comparison completely. First, electric guitar takes over and the vocals gain some confidence in their hooks while maintaining a tad of the soft-edged tone on Dickey’s end. “You Could Write a Book” even finds Cardwell jumping for high notes in a James Mercer fashion ("I’m alri-i-ight") and employs some tasteful vocal recording effects. The music gets pumped up too, like in the dancey disco hihat of “Modern Mystery,” something the band was perhaps too shy for on their debut. Now don’t worry too much about that acoustic guitar because the nylon-string ditties still make an appearance, most notably on Dickey’s charming “Dead Right,” which could fit right back onto Broom, and on “Some Constellation” which is drum-less yet has a cool buildup with bass and flamenco-style acoustic guitar swells, and there’s also the beach breeze of “Heers.” However, the upright piano that dominated Broom’s artwork and songs has vanished. Moving the recording operation from Will’s house to his aunt and uncle’s maybe forced the piano to be left behind.
“Oceanographer,” while the longest song found here, seems to be built on the least substance. They wanted to try out a riff that recycled on a 2/4 measure, and they wanted to see what they could rhyme with the title (map topographer, court stenographer, news photographer) and they wanted to throw in some trashy retro guitar leads and a “woo!” or two. It’s fun, but doesn’t stick like the rest. That might be the only problem I have with the album. And that’s being picky as hell.
I wish I hadn’t first ignored these guys for their unwieldy moniker. Now I play catch-up by listening to both albums alternating almost daily. I had to dig for a reason to not give Pershing a ten. It’s an early contender for ‘Feel Good Record of the Year,’ for your ‘Summer Jamz ‘08’ mix, or hell, don’t even narrow the field or dismiss it for its poppiness; keep it in mind as a straight-up ‘Album of the Year’ finalist.