A couple of months ago, we profiled the stellar sophomore effort of Seattle-based power-pop trio, Telekinesis on 12 Desperate Straight Lines. If you thought Telekinesis hit a home run with that effort, this week's profilees might be more reasonably classified as a stand-up double, a perfectly solid rookie outing by the New York, N.Y.-stationed quartet, Pursesnatchers on A Pattern Language – out today on the indie label, Uninhabitable Mansions. (The entire album can be previewed here)
Although not quite the same level of spirited, hooky brilliance of their counterparts from the Pacific Northwest, the four-piece fronted by former Dirty on Purpose captain Doug Marvin excels at a handful of shimmering lo-fi gems that are both easy to absorb and substantive enough for reflection. After the slinky, muted guitar that introduces "Forever Overhead," Marvin and his mates – along with his wife, keyboardist Annie Hart, formerly of Au Rivoir Simone – dive-in head-first into a sparkling dedication to journeys afar. It's here at the outset the ensemble most resembles Michael Benjamin Lerner's sound through Telekinesis, with bright, dancing electric guitar riffs traversing a field of sludgy bass lines and eager drumming. It's more than enough to start the collection on the right foot.
The following "Mechanical Rabbits" ups the ante, first with a summoning prelude and an absolutely sparkling lead guitar part even before the first chorus. The guitar work here – largely supplied by Marvin – is record's defining element. The piece – long for indie pop at nearly five and a half minutes – wisely pauses for a break just past its midpoint, else it might have expended its fuel, but not for long before the brisk pace resumes, propelled by bassist Jared Barron and drummer Harold Liu, and it's minute-long zenith is among the most rewarding moments on the collection.
First single, "Wet Cement," only marginally eases off on the adrenaline, with a more staying verve and more airy vocals from Marvin, more in the gentler model of former Rilo Kiley co-frontman Blake Sennett. Hart's keyboards and organ are also moreso at the forefront here, offering a welcome change of tone from the guitar-driven opening pair of tracks. As a strong counterpoint, "A Parting Prayer" is decidedly heavier, emphasizing a growling bass part from Barron and more pronounced beats from Liu, but largely contains the same liveliness as its predecessors, and features an absolutely beautiful – and unexpected – acoustic guitar figure at its core that enlightens the whole composition.
A duo of less enthusiastic cuts follow in "Kissena Park" and "Lost in Los Angeles." They're perfectly fine numbers on their own, but following the vitality of the lead-off quartet, they hover with less direction and intention. The former wouldn't have seemed out of place on former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp's The Rentals project, and the latter benefits with a bit more spine, again fostered by Marvin's spectral guitar concepts.
The album regains some footing through "Baseball on the Radio," which finds its way to a more timeless sound, not surprising considering its title, and a smidgen of heartland rock pedigree through its more straightforward guitar riffs. But here's where a bit more vocal gravitas from Marvin is in order, as his phrasing and delivery comes across in a shrugged-off manner, when the underlying song structure nearly demands something more forceful. Perhaps he should have begun to share the vocal duties with Hart one track earlier, as her presence out front on the following "Third Body Problem" is most welcome. Her tone is crystalline while also forceful enough to rise above the instrumental material. Although its understandable that Marvin, as the outfit's chief songwriter, wants to present the material exactly as he intended it, Hart's performance demonstrates she can as aptly deliver her husband's vision as effectively as him. Besides, A.C. Newman seems to have little trouble distributing his output to an even larger number of co-vocalists and still retain his identity as primary composer amongst his audience. Lets hope Marvin takes the same risk on future recordings.
The final offerings are less aggressive and, accordingly, less interesting. "The Transubstantiationalist" is as heady and ethereal as is name implies, while "Waxwings" hovers above some quivering electric guitar lines, but never really transitions beyond it. Nonetheless, the 10-track collection is a more than respectable first step for a talented group capable of much more.
Come for: "Wet Cement"
Stay for: "Mechanical Rabbits"
You'll be surprised by: "Third Body Problem"