When the New Pornographers released their debut album,
Mass Romantic, earlier this year, the band was
dubbed a sort of low-level supergroup. With the release
of albums from Destroyer and this, the almost
equally spectacular Battles album, the comparison
might not be so far-fetched.
Distinguishing themselves from other collectives,
this group of musicians has no aversion to genre
hopping; while most of their output sticks with the generalized
pop format, one might argue that the various members
have released the best Brit-pop (Mass
Romantic), chamber-pop (Streethawk: A
Seduction) and retro-pop (Lycanthropy) of
In Lycanthropy, The Battles have constructed
an album of joyous '70s pop, infused with a melodic sensibility straight out of the '60s. While the
album is unabashedly retro, the band fuses the
styles of the time into a musical conglomerate that
remains individual in its own eccentricities. Quirky
Soft Boys-style vocals meander through sun-drenched,
psychedelia, juxtaposed with
guitar-chiming Big Star aesthetics.
Lycanthropy is an album in the truest sense of
the word. Songs fall on each other with almost brash
consistency. The band emerges not as a
modern group tossing around a bunch of retro cliches,
but rather as a band with a characteristic sound that
comes together in succinct conformity.
The album's only major low point can be found in "John Merrick", named for the infamous Elephant
Man, and in the following song, "Saudi Arabia", in which
the band dawdles along like Robyn Hitchcock
singing songs from Ziggy Stardust. They
seem to be making conscious stabs at something epic, but the
vocals fall painfully short of the flourishing melody
they overlay. The album is drawn out of these doldrums on "Wayward Sons", in which the band gets
back to the fervent pop that makes Lycanthropy
a notable release.
With Matador's re-release of the Soft Boys' classic
Underwater Moonlight and their subsequent
reunion tour, along with the ongoing re-evaluation of the relevancy of
Todd Rundgren and Jonathan Richman, the early '70s seem to be back in a major way.
For perhaps the first time since 1975, this grand psychedelic pop style is
overtaking the latter-day punk movement as the most
talked-about musical milieu. While this
is only of concern to the musically obsessed -- myself
included -- it provides Lycanthropy with an interesting context.