Release Date: Jan 18, 2011
Record label: Self-released
It’s tough to say whether they were driven to madness by one too many Ben Folds comparisons or performed some musical voodoo ritual during the four weeks they spent recording in New Orleans, but former piano-poppers Modern Skirts emerge on Gramahawk a changed band. The giddy hooks, of which the Skirts seem to have no shortage, remain intact, but for this effort, the quartet wisely mined the bizzaro bedroom recordings of lead singer Jay Gulley. The result is a lo-fi, synthy romp through DUIs (“DUI”), a love song for an ‘80s one-hit wonder (“Jane Child”) and some kind of psychedelic Renaissance fair soundtrack (“To Be a Branch Davidian”) that, even when it nudges into overwrought territory, is just absurdly fun.
At the end of the year, it’s typical to reflect on lessons learned. Did your best friends stick up for you when you needed them most? Maybe it’s time to be less overtly nice to your boss, and pass on open bar tequila at weddings. You might think you could stand to buy a few (hundred) less records (that credit card interest won’t pay itself down).
Having a 21st century indie rock band start off an album with a number called "Jane Child," led by keyboard and harmonies, seems somehow right in its own weird way -- why not a song dedicated to and named after (apparently) the late-'80s R&B/pop artist that sounds more like a "post-Beach Boys via Spoon and lots of other things" number, anyway? With that, Gramahawk is off and running, and Modern Skirts do their best to play around with expectations as it goes. "Under Bridges and Overpasses" perhaps gets the beats/vocals/swingalong feeling best, and the whole thing is pleasant rather than aiming for the "I wish I was epic" approach -- which is actually something of a plus after so many efforts like that. Without sounding like demos, there's a way that the band makes space in its arrangements; without sounding incomplete, the lack of bass in a song like "DUI" lets the giddy marching band/circus kick of the music feel a little fragile as well, while the quiet guitar and finger-snap percussion feel of "Glass of Water" is sweetly, creepily beautiful (suiting the somewhat less than perfect world the lyrics describe).
Modern Skirts are the platonic ideal of a certain kind of college town band. You know the type: They've been described to you as "y'know, fun... kinda pop-y," odds are you know someone who made out with the drummer, and they're humbly ambitious in a way that suggests local royalty is an acceptable endpoint. At least that was true of the Athens, Ga., group on their Rooney-fied 2005 debut, Catalogue of Generous Men, a document of "O.C."-era indie rock frozen in amber, or at least the sickly yellow of Natty Lite.