In the last few years, the ease of home recording has increased exponentially to the point where every 17 year old with an acoustic guitar and a laptop is now a “band” (I will make fun of these kids forever, but I am happy that they exist. I wonder if their children will unearth their MySpace pages in 30 years). Anyway, as we have gotten more and more used to hearing home recordings by people who don’t have much experience in the realm of…well, recording, we’ve gotten more and more used to low fidelity, to everything clipping. Lo-fi wasn’t invented by the internet generation, of course, it’s always been a marker of authenticity and anti-top 40 pop music (think of Daniel Johnston bleating his immensely effective songs of pain into a tape recorder), but we may be the first group of consumers to send some kid straight from making blown out tapes in his basement to having public drug meltdowns at European festivals within, what, six months? Low fidelity recording is acceptable to a wider swathe of audience than ever before. Those of us who have grown up listening to streaming MySpace mp3s have learned to listen past the blurry audio when necessary and to appreciate it as an aesthetic of both intention and necessity. It could even be considered a backlash against the unnatural cleanness and dryness of digital production, which removes the warmth of occasional tape saturation of most of our beloved analog recordings and makes it sound like listening to a rock band suspended in a vacuum. Cambridge, MA, band You and Your Pointy Ears, the brainchild of Spenser Gralla (when he’s not busy being in all his other bands) fits neatly into the lo-fi pop category, but instead of the angsty numbness of bands like Wavves, You and Your Pointy Ears channels the badass, dance party stomp of old school garage weirdos like The Monks and country rockers like CCR.
When I first heard You and Your Pointy Ears, it was late on a Monday night at Zuzu, a tiny, red-walled club in Cambridge, frequented by the ex members of every great Boston band that we could have sworn was going to blow up but never quite did. These people all have the authoritative and tragic weight of deposed royalty as they down bottle after golden bottle of high life. I was sitting at the bar shooting the shit with someone or other when You and Your Pointy Ears started playing, and though I hadn’t come to watch the bands, soon I was standing in the crush around Spenser Gralla and his drummer for the night (presumably Noah Bond, Gralla’s bandmate from one of his main projects, the rumbling psych-pop group Doomstar), first nodding my head and grinning, and soon joining everyone else in hopping around with beer in hand. Let me tell you, it was a party. High lifes were held up high in every hand, foaming over their rims and soaking coat sleeves, and no one seemed to care. Everyone just kept dancing.
The thing that makes You and Your Pointy Ears great is this mix of old and new. You could probably lump them in with the unfortunately named “shitgaze” bands without anyone rolling their eyes at your naiveté, but really what You and Your Pointy Ears does is play pop songs that you can dance to but that don’t make you feel like you’re in a jeans commercial aimed at hip, suburban youth. This is more difficult than it sounds. Pretty much every single indie rock band aimed at making dance music sounds either neutered or hideously dated. Good rock music has to have roots and wings. Throwbacky bands can catch on for about a year, but they’re always the butt of jokes for the next ten afterwards (Brian Setzer Orchestra anyone?), and bands that are too focused on innovation largely go unlistened to, which, when you’re trying to make pop music, is sort of a problem. Gralla’s songs are pretty simple, rooted in a lot of sixties pop song writing in the same way that, believe it or not, the best Nirvana songs are. Consider the drum break during the chorus of A-side “Under Your Feet” , in which the drums suddenly drop into that old saw girl group drum beat (as in the first verse of “Leader of the Pack” ), or the surf rock double backbeat on B-side “Night at the Movies” that follows the wicked drum fills out of the static verse sections and into the choruses, underscoring that last Brian Wilsonian ooh that hangs out above the crashing waves of drums and guitar like ocean mist.
“Under Your Feet” is a loose stomping rock and roll song with no wasted moments, exactly the kind of thing You and Your Pointy Ears excels at. It’s got a slightly bizarre verse chord progression, following those descending barre chords out of the key and then back in, and that madly catchy, repetitive chorus that hits the upbeats so hard it feels like it should go tumbling along forever. Catch the way the bass drum mirrors the rhythm of the vocals there, creating that tension that makes you want to move. Also, “I love to see you go / but I hate to watch you leave” is an great inversion of the old cliché used cleverly to invoke the kind of mixed feelings in relationships where you let someone walk all over you.
B-side “Night at the Movies” kicks in with a little more electricity, going straight into some Walkmen-style all-downstroke strumming on the electric, rolling 16th notes on the rack tom, sleigh bells on the downbeats. It’s a perfect tension-release set up for the choruses when the song explodes into that double backbeat mentioned above. It’s something so simple, but so powerful. The whole verse long you can’t help but wait for it, and then when it finally comes, after that terrifically savage drum fill by Bond, it’s so satisfying. It is, like all great pop songs, a tiny exercise in delayed gratification, and that final falsetto melody is just sublime.
You and Your Pointy Ears has the knack for making great independent pop music: pop songs that are just weird enough to be interesting and weird songs that are just poppy enough to get stuck in your head. This would be enough to make them worthwhile on its own, but add to it enough rock n roll blood to make a club full of drunken Boston rock royalty get up and shake their asses and a lo-fi aesthetic that actually mirrors the feeling of being in a tiny dark room and getting pulverized by the enormous sound of a rock band playing ten feet away and you have a band worth spilling your beer to. I am eagerly awaiting their 2010 full length, but for now at least we have this handy Ampeater 7-inch.
Under Your Feet
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem049/01 Under Your Feet.mp3
Night at the Movies
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem049/02 Night at the Movies.mp3