Release Date: Feb 5, 2013
Record label: ADA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The first time I heard Guards I was drinking Lone Star at the back of some grubby SXSW courtyard – the sun shining down, blistering my English flesh, as people around me splintered into a dozen separate conversations about Justin Timberlake. It was only a few songs in that I realized how much I was enjoying the music coming from the stage. A voice next to me shouted, 'she sounds like Debbie Harry' and I moved in for a closer look to find that this Californian indie trap were actually fronted by a dude, and was won over on the spot.
To flip the cliché about the Velvet Underground, six million people bought the first Third Eye Blind album and surely some of them started a band. Point being, before they started learning how to namedrop canonical influences, many groups who qualify as "indie" in 2013 likely had formative experiences around the last time buzzy, commercially ambitious, and only vaguely "alternative" guitar rock was still a going, multiplatinum concern. I'd bet that Guards fits that description, and even if they don't, their eager-to-please debut, In Guards We Trust, will certainly appeal to anyone who secretly wishes for the return of the late 90s culture fostered by "120 Minutes" and pre-Clear Channel alt.rock radio.
The Brooklyn band Guards plays an eclectic form of pop-rock with bits and pieces tossed in from all over the map—big anthemic choruses on “Ready to Go” and “Not Supposed To”, pounding dance-pop drums on “Nightmare”, breathy vocals mixed down into the murk, even some nifty guitar work from time to time. When it all comes together, as on “Heard the News” and the high-energy “I Know It’s You”, Guards manages to tap into something fun and even, occasionally, powerful. “Your Man” is another strong track that benefits from a moody rhythm and harmony vocals.
Richie James Follin might be the least bored guy in New York City. On Guards’ 2010 self-titled EP, his full-throttle vocals lifted the band out of reverb-heavy retrospective onto a fiercer edge. Wielding a sanguine sense of play, the trio stomped all over the ’50s and ’60s with steel-toed Pixies boots. Nearly three years later, Guards’ debut full-length bites down a little harder, but can’t keep its jaw clenched throughout its running time.
There seems to be this perennial myth that, if you’re feeling a little low then the best music to pick you up is “happy” music, like it’s some kind of escapist antidote that has the ability to metamorphose reality into an exultant utopia where everything’s fine and dandy. But what happens when the record stops playing? Play it again? Find something else equally immaterial about how carefree the person on the other end is feeling? Guards’ debut has an adverse effect on me; there’s something depressingly vexatious about listening to an album with such euphoric reverence when you can’t particularly relate to the joyous, beatific clamour permeating your earholes. That’s not to say that musically, the only cure for dejection is Joy Division, but the problem with Guards’ music is – not that it’s too cheerful, too blithely hopeful, too wrapped up in its own insouciant bubble – but that it’s lacking conviction.
I’ve never conversed with Richie Follin—the man behind the moniker Guards—but I’m assuming it would be an awkwardly one-sided affair. If there’s one thing that the brother of Madeline Follin (one half of Cults) proves throughout his 45-minute debut, it’s that he has absolutely nothing to say. And while In Guards We Trust is an album chock-full of arena-demanding choruses, these (at times) fist-pumping anthems are so vague and one dimensional that we’re left wondering why our arms are in the air at all.