Release Date: Jan 24, 2012
Record label: Mute
Big Deal is what happens when a young guitar teacher and his student bond over Sonic Youth, Alex Chilton and Freaks and Geeks: 12 feedback-laced psychodramas, delivered through hooky, drumless tunes specked with horny, guilt-ridden duet harmonies. "Can't do my homework/Can't concentrate," purrs Alice Costelloe on "Homework," then wonders, "Where have your clothes gone?" Partner Kacey Underwood offers, "Don’t hate my guts/It’s not my fault." A similar scene plays out in "Chair": "You don't trust me to sit on your bed/Put me on a chair in the corner instead." It'd be too coy if it wasn’t so finely tuned. Instead, it's a seductive indie-rock Pygmalion.
For all the prurience surrounding the pairing of 18-year-old Alice Costelloe and 29-year-old Kacey Underwood – prurience they hardly discourage – the thing that first attracted interest in them was their music. This debut album justifies those early murmurings. For a duo whose songs employ nothing more than electric and acoustic guitar, they can be surprisingly robust: the opener, Distant Neighbourhood, and Visions both sound like long-lost alt-pop classics shorn of their rhythm section (Visions even has a touch of Blondie about it).
From Johnny Cash and June Carter to Mates of State, pop music would be a duller place without the romantic tug-of-war between genders. Blasting the dull, grey layer from the boy/girl concept is Big Deal, comprised of Joshua Tree, CA’s Kacey Underwood and London’s Alice Costelloe. The friends-one-might-mistake-for-lovers make heartache and young lust universal experiences.
Big Deal are by all appearances a precocious young boy/girl duo a la Summer Camp/Tennis/Cults/Slow Club. In press photos you'd be hard pressed to spot the 11 year age gap between 29-year-old American Kacey Underwood and 18-year-old Brit Alice Costelloe and photogenic they are too, with the sort awkwardly scruffy good looks that tend to automatically attract accusations of hipsterdom from more cynical quarters. At a cursory listen the most apt comparison would be our very own Slow Club, but with marginally less of the indie-folk tweeness and a hint of the kind of post-grunge slackerdom revivalism of Yuck.
What started with a few well-intentioned folky songstresses making an honourable crossover into indie has led to an epidemic: fey UK. The subtleties of [b]Marling[/b] and [b]Newsom[/b] have been lost on hundreds of copycats. The alt-folk legacy is basically that match.com advert in the guitar shop and Birdy, a 12-year-old who covers last year’s indie hits in the style of a bereaved finch.[a]Big Deal[/a] – the London boy/girl duo made up of Alice Costelloe, KC Underwood and their considerable age gap – could be mistaken for just another wimpy acoustic band at first glance: their debut has plenty of fragile guitars and schoolgirl subject matter.
Big Deal’s biography reads like a checklist procured from a sad-faced hipster scavenger hunt: boy from strict religious family studies rock music in secret and escapes to England, meeting ‘independent and insightful chanteuse’ and they bond over Sonic Youth and Big Star. Reading the entire biography, which is filled with so much more of the same, it seems a little too convenient that they manage to just deftly hit all of these indie-cred pleasure points, and what is presented as the new sweethearts of alt-mainstream comes off more like some kind of Monkees for when the horn-rim glasses, retro mustaches, ‘ironic’ tattoos and snarky t-shirts crowd is all cloudy-face. And of course, the overt sexual tension that they dance around in reality while playing up in their actual songs only makes the hipster heart grow that much fonder.
Lights Out is surprising, sincere and, above all, a success. Chris Lo 2011 Whenever a new, fashionably-attired boy/girl duo appears on the UK music scene, especially one as handsome as Big Deal’s Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood, certain Ting Tings-shaped nightmares are inescapable. It’s an involuntary style-over-substance association, just one of the unfortunate by-products of that pair’s 15 minutes of ubiquity.