Lake Street Dive
Waving goodbye to the somewhat jaded state that's followed snoring through the deluge of over-canny/cute, self-conscious/reverential, or just unspectacular pop of 2010 to date... feels great. Once in a sweet blue moon, a recording arrives that is so fresh and appealing, there's no recourse but to spout clichés like "once in a blue moon." I have absolutely no complaints, no suggestions, and no duck-and-hide-ennui jokes, comparisons, or formatting hi-jinx, as there's no need to cajole readers into being interested in something that makes me glance longingly out the window toward the crickets.
Camouflaged by a gray cardboard digipak decorated by uncredited, three-colored artwork, Lake Street Dive is just such a recording, and combo. The word "Yum!" has been drawn on the four-wheeled, food-vendor-type contraption on the back of the sleeve. "Yum!" indeed.
The debut is a soulful (but not only, sometimes recalling sources including Merseybeat, Wings, or the Cardigans, but in a way that fits organically, seamlessly into the compositions) pop confection that tricks us into thinking it won't be extraordinary by opening with the perfectly respectable bounce of "Hello? Goodbye!" All unsuspecting, I start assessing: "Lead singer cajoles like Bonnie Raitt, but with the verve and punch of Amy Winehouse. The song's good enough to make a body want to keep listening, but not enough to make her throw flowers in the air." After the album's spun its magic a few more times, that's shifted to, "Hello? Goodbye!" combines a Letters from Cleo/Save Ferris kind of loft with a bit of Big Easy lilt (thanks to the trombone of Mike Olson, who also provides guitar) and a near-Mexican jumping bean giddiness."
Oh, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers come to mind, but only as "The Squirrel Nut Zippers should be this good, although they helped pave the way for Lake Street Dive."
"Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand" steals in almost as sneakily, with a melody made arresting by jazz-trained chanteuse Rachael Price's intense focus, with the accompaniment of bare-bones percussion, a finely parsed organ, and electric guitar as perfectly targeted as that of a Stax/Volt player. Then the song stands up and throws off its London Fog raincoat to reveal the naked emotion in a bridge that turns the song into something approaching greatness; what the composition doesn't quite manage is made up for with fine-tuned dynamics, gorgeous harmonies, and the escalating intensity of classic soul. Wow, these young people are doing this in 2010... in Massachusetts?
Other tracks startle with wordplay like "Henriette/sobriquet,"or, on "Elijah," something about not making it to Christmas with "...like two distant shores we are bound by our love as an isthmus." Wow, these young people are literate without apologizing or making a big deal of it... in Massachusetts (which can stand, in this case, without italics).
Everything comes together as it tends to for meant-to-be projects. Lively rhythms alternate with the more measured pace of balladry. Production is consistently creative, as when distant-feeling bass and organ chords quietly herald Price's luscious vocal on "Disregard," which expands another deceptively simple melody with a warm, harmonized chorus. And, as on albums that form a complete story rather than a set of disparate tracks, it turns out "Disregard" has laid the way for a song so sublime, it brings chills. LSD can tempt even a listener who's impatient with moans over love lost or unrequited to not only listen, but brew a cup of yum and settle into an easy chair for sounds so handily evoking the ephemerality of existence, romance, and loneliness - not to mention the odd jokes played on anyone awake to the nuances. The raw beauty of "Neighbor Song" is so moving, these born-again-through-tears lines almost get lost in the shuffle: "Sometimes I forget all of us are just human/‘cause we're all stacked in rolls and columns/and if one of them should fall/my neighbors making love upstairs would crush me..."
Nearly as arresting is "We All Love the Same Songs," which has a bit of Wings' feel circa Ram, with a touch of minor-key melancholy. Honestly, it's all good, with moments of greater poignancy punctuating the whole. How many ways can you say something is extraordinary? Well, here's one more: If Maroon 5 busted out with an album packed with this much ingenuity and inspiration, it would live up to the rep. it's been coasting on since "Sunday Morning."
LSD may not earn the millions Maroon 5 would garner with (or without) something this vital, but I fervently hope the band will live long and prosper. Even if the next full-length falls short of this one's seamless serendipity, the foursome can bask in the knowledge it's created something pretty amazing.
Dive Right In
If you pick up Lake Street Dive’s third and eponymously-titled album, and run through the first three songs on the back of the CD case, you might be inclined to think that they’re little more than a parody of the Beatles. There’s “Hello? Goodbye!” as the first offering, followed by “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand”. The third song is titled “Henriette”, which may have visions of “Michelle” dancing in your head, though the former has nothing to do with the French. The Beatles allusions don’t stop there. The band was a winner of the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Competition, and when you finally put the CD into your player, the chorus to “Hello? Goodbye!” is an obvious nick from and inversion of the Fab Four’s similarly titled tune with “When I say hello, you say goodbye.” You might be forgiven, based on this evidence, that the band is a novelty act, offering something along the lines of Utopia’s Deface the Music, which was an entire album written in the style of the Liverpool lads, or the Rutles. Happily, this is not the case. Lake Street Dive offer up a sincere blend of soulful jazz-rock with cabaret touches and a dash of bubblegum, folk, country and psychedelica. What’s more, Lake Street Dive is an astonishingly strong record, one that at times recalls the work of mid-period Chicago or Steely Dan or any variety of ‘70s AM-radio gold staples. It is a must-have for anyone who is a fan of recorded sound as Lake Street Dive are not pretenders, they’re real contenders.
Part of the charm is hearing the work of Rachael Price, whose lush vocal style is equally a cross between the triumvirate of soulful Joneses – that’d be Rickie Lee Jones, Sharon Jones and Norah Jones. She careens and swoons through Lake Street Dive’s 13 tracks (plus a bonus hidden goodie), like an eagle taking flight across a landscape of snow-capped mountains. Price is known as a solo artist, too, and is lauded enough to have her own Wikipedia page, which is unique for an artist who can be described at this point in her career as regional. She’s won a bevy of awards, and is noted for being the daughter of choral musician Tom Price. Of the lineage, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. Price is an instrument in and of herself, which is not to discredit the other members of this musically tight group (which include Mike Olson on trumpet and guitar, and Michael Calabrese on the skins). Still, she is simply a revelation to hear. Anyone with an interest in hearing a real up-and-coming young talent can do no wrong than examining her work with this band, which originated out of Boston.
The other players on this disc are equally as astonishing to listen to, as well. The opening, bossa nova-influenced “Hello? Goodbye!” features a lilting trumpet solo that is breathtaking to behold and a false ending to keep you on your toes. The follow-up track, “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand” is a knock-out, probably the record’s stand-out track and the longest, clocking in at just more than six minutes – a slow, simmering ballad that has an infectious groove to it. The album’s most obvert Beatles moment comes with “Henriette”, which is an amalgam of the riff from “Paperback Writer” with the chorus from “Drive My Car”. It also features astounding and very idiosyncratic stand-up bass fretwork in the form of a rather unexpected solo from band member Bridget Kearney. There are a bevy of other highlights as well. “My Heart in Its Right Place” is a concoction of smooth jazz that wouldn’t be out of place in the repertoire of Carole King. “Got Me Fooled” is a delectable slice of jangle-pop and ‘60s garage rock. “Elijah” is a pseudo-twee pop tune that is expertly crafted into an almost gospel rave-up. And on it goes. There’s not a single duff track to be found between the bookends of “Hello? Goodbye!” and “My Speed”. What’s more, the variety of styles blend in well together, and you’ll never get the impression that this is just a scattered assortment of differences chopped up. There is a real cohesion to this album, a sense of the familiar that sounds distinctly unfamiliar at the same time. Lake Street Dive can be uniquely identified by a fingerprint they can call their own.
Thematically, Lake Street Dive is an album of bruised relationships and the travails of being alone, but not without a sense of humour. “Neighbor Song”, which is also reprised as the bonus track in a more clinical version backed by haunting keyboards as opposed to the straight-up lite jazz version on the album proper, is actually about hearing the couple in the apartment upstairs going at it, and just trying to get some shut-eye for “the love they make is keeping me awake”, which is a rich metaphor for longing, for wanting to be in their shoes. Elsewhere, “Elijah” offers a great opening line which paints an incredible portrait of being absolutely smitten with someone, “Elijah has his brains on the legs of his jeans by his hip”, which later leads our protagonist to “lay in psychosis one bright sunny day”. With this third album, Lake Street Drive prove that they’re an incredibly vibrant quartet of wordsmiths, never falling into cliché, offering rich views into the tormented psyches of lovers and the lonely.
In a fair world, this record would be hailed as an instant classic, one that will influence a bevy of musicians. That might not be its fate, considering that the group is on a tiny label and has a unique sound that rubs against all that this popular in music these days. However, anyone who loves pure, sweet and unbridled music should definitely check Lake Street Dive out—and I get the feeling that they might just be an incendiary band to see in a blues or jazz club somewhere, just on the basis of their recorded output here. All in all, Lake Street Dive is a staggering, monumental disc, one that had me almost immediately listen to it twice in a row. There is real power, real magic on display here—a chemistry between the interplay of band members and an appreciation for a blend of genres that congeals here into something that can be pinpointed to past influences, yet remains one of a kind. They may not be the Beatles, but they don’t have to be. Lake Street Dive is a gorgeous, tasteful, close-knit band of musicians, and the sounds that they purvey are something celebratory to behold.