Review Summary: A wonderful debut EP from an unsigned band who probably won't stay that way for long, "Affairs" is kind of like going to an all-you-can-eat-buffet and not getting enough food.
These days, there are so many lo-fi indie-pop bands that it's hard to even know where to start. Chicago's "California Wives" make a strong case for themselves with their debut EP "Affairs". The quartet sets themselves apart from the pack with some excellent production throughout, and an excellent singer in Jason Kramer. With only five songs, the album leaves quite an impression by the time its 20 minute run-time breezes by.
The first song, "Blood Red Youth", starts out sounding like any number of lo-fi acts you've heard in the past. It isn't until the punchy synth kicks in that the production and arrangements start to really gain your attention, before quieting to a steady drone when the lyrics finally arrive. By the time the song starts to wrap up, its almost impossible not to be drawn in as the song ends in a catharsis, with Kramer sing/shouting "Oh what those people did to you, in your blood red youth" with a synth line reminiscent of the guitar section in "12:51".
The follow-up, "Twenty Three". starts with a throbbing yet restrained plunking of the synth, with fuzzy guitars holding it together. The lyrics, like all of the songs on the EP, are obscure--yet something about the way the songs are constructed make them seem less-so. You want to know exactly what Kramer is singing about, if anything. The song ends similarly to the opener, with a louder exit than the rest of the song, but it feels natural because the song has a nice build-up that makes it less jarring when it arrives. "Guilt" is the mid-point, and is the band wearing its 80's influence right on its sleeve. Yet it still sounds distinctly modern. The synth line is hauntingly pretty at times, and this song goes out on a quieter note than the songs that preceded it. "Purple", the album highlight, follows and it is instantly memorable. It's the song that begs to be repeated as soon as it ends. The synth is all but dropped, replaced with a buzzing guitar line and the best vocal performance on the EP. What makes it so strange that this song is the most listenable is that there's not really a chorus. All of the strength lies in the instrumentation, vocals, and arrangement. It's just a well-crafted song.
The closer and longest song, "Photolights", shows lots of promise for what this band could do in the future with a bigger budget and studio to play around with. There's a minute and a half of quiet synth build-up before Kramer's vocals, this time spaced out into a fog, kick in. There's even a quiet moment of electro-blips before the guitars pulse back in for the loudest moment on the album, and the band gets their shoegaze on to close it out. It's an exciting moment showing the most complex arrangements on the album, and by the time it ends you're ready to listen to the whole thing straight through again.
With the popularity of the genre at the moment, I have no doubt these guys will find a bigger home in the near future. But even if the genre wasn't at such a peak, I'd probably feel the same way. There's a lot of talent present in these songs, and each one has its own catchy quality. A way of getting stuck in your head. They borrow from a load of sounds and genres and make them something all their own, while maintaining an accessibility that doesn't come easy for some more experienced bands with bigger means to make an album. I find it hard to think there could be a fan of indie-pop who wouldn't find something to love in this record. And the only thing I could think they might dislike is that it leaves them wanting more. Until their debut full-length, the repeat button will have to be your chance for a bigger serving.