Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Album of the Week: Afternoon Naps "Parade"

It has been a while since I've been able to post an Album of the Week feature. I got tired of failing my local readership, especially when it came to bands they could see and hear right around Cleveland, so when I did a review of Afternoon Naps new record, I decided I'd reinstate the weekly review drop. Hope you welcome it back to your google readers and internet scans. - CB.

The first three tracks of Parade provide the perfect introduction to Afternoon Naps, a rust belt pop band that has been bringing sunshine pop to their gloomy post-industrial climes since 2006. “Plum City Fight Song,” the band’s homage to their hometown, begins the album with a healthy dose of guitarist Tom Dechristofaro’s Moz-lite vocals, while the third tune, “The Day We Started,” provides a crash course in the moonstruck glee of keyboardist Leia Hohenfeld. Sandwiched between these songs, “Beach Bums” finds the duo sharing the vocal burden more equally, a combination as blissful as it is an accurate foreshadowing of the album’s additional seven tracks. Though several nuances exist song to song, the overall album is a notable for the consistency of its joyful, simple, and smart music. In a word, Afternoon Naps-style pop is perfect.

Though not intended as anything remotely like a concept album, Parade might reasonably be considered one, as it is a jangly, jumbly bit of songs about relationships in various stages. From first moments and late night kisses to break-ups and longing, the album could quite aptly be the non-linear soundtrack of the rise and fall of a lost love. For every track like “Beach Bums,” which references frustration with a relationship that resists resuscitation, and “Seasons May Change,” about the confusion and unanswered questions that accompany every failed relationship, there is a song like “The Day We Started” and its ode to first encounters or “Mitten Fingers,” a song that accompanies the tale of one simple tender moment with a slight Cardigans vibe.

Throughout the record, the listener faces a constant battle in determining whether the best part of any given song is found in the music or the lyrics. Both Hohenfeld and Dechristofaro are sublime songwriters, but are both equally proficient at their respective instruments (as are drummer Craig Ramsey and bassist Mike Allan). For example, in my favorite track (”Beach Bums”), one is torn between more strongly loving the flying bass and uber-danceable closing organ jam or the many killer lines, from “you’re written like an apology/and put the blame on cartography” and “at the point of our happenstance/I find myself indifferent.” Indeed, Dechristofaro’s delivery is the only imaginable version that could rhyme “happenstance” with “indifferent” and not make my eyes roll. Instead, it makes me think … “awesome.” Similarly, on “The Day We Started” I’m equally taken with the vintage croon of “si-i-i-gn” as I am the organ’s delightful lilt, while on “Catholic School” I’ll never know whether a line like “but they can’t teach a schoolgirl how to kiss to a song” is better than the revved-up 50s girl group instrumentals paired miced-down vocal mix, or vice versa. Overall, I’m inclined to go with the vocals – you can’t beat the 70s pop “bah bah bahs” on “Bubblegum 45,” the pitch-perfect duet on “Discoverse,” and Dechristofaro’s wise plea for a new lover to “stay my dear/I see magic here” on “Plum City Fight Song” – but the band operates so lightly and tightly any forgotten compliment seems like a critical betrayal.

It is when I try to decide who Afternoon Naps remind me of, I’m fully struck by their contribution and potential. While Dechristofaro’s vocals frequently call to mind a leaner Morrisey, there are other moments (particularly on “Mitten Fingers”) when I find myself thinking Bowie, the band moves fluidly from disco-pop (”Discoverse”) to songs that call to mind acts as disparate as The Turtles (”Bubblegum 45″), The Monkees (”The Fall Companion”), and The Sundays (”Digitally Altered Sunset,” the album’s closing track that shows off arrangement skills in a way the rest of the album, however brilliant, does not). Whatever the reference you find as you listen, I think you’ll agree that on Parade, the band does an excellent job of putting the listener back in key moments in the romantic development of their youth and, for some, the tender and vulnerable moments of adulthood.

Parade, Afternoon Naps’ second full-length album, was released on September 23 through Athens-based Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records. You can buy it here, or snag it from the band in person; upcoming shows around town include a December 10th show at the Beachland with the ever-reuniting Dreadful Yawns and a FREE January 8th show at the Grog Shop with Casual Encounters, Prisoners, and Filmstrip.

No comments: