Review Summary: and just when you thought 2010 was fizzling out
This all sounds eerily familiar. Cumbersome, silly song titles? Busy, math-infused guitar lines coupled with pop sensibilities? A carefree sense of youthfulness and spunk? Yes, it’s been confirmed-- Minus the Bear circa 2002 have time-traveled to present-day. Unfortunately, the time-travel process seems to not be without kinks just yet, as singer Jake Snider has regrettably been lost in the ozone. As Snider a la 2002 floats out there in nothingness though, the band has found a more-than-apt replacement in, oddly enough, a female with silky smooth vocals, Natalie Diaz. The metaphor to novice Minus the Bear material is more than suitable, as Modern American Theatre channels the poppy mathematics a la This Town Needs Guns, Maps & Atlases and the like on their debut, but make no mistake: Modern American Theatre are very much their own band on We Could Make A House
. The LA newcomers display an uncanny amount of elegance on their DIY debut. Exhibiting maturity in all the right places, they still keep We Could Make A House
light with a youthful audacity, the kind that’s impossible to fake. Add it up, and Modern American Theatre create one of the most impressive debuts of 2010.
It’s difficult to find fault in the fluid album. Off-kilter melodies are interwoven liberally throughout We Could Make A House
, with unexpected bridges, crescendos, and sporadic vocals to complement. “She's Like That With Everyone” displays Theatre’s knack for infusing a catchy hook, like a backbone, into the mathy goodness; and with clattering percussion in tow, ends up as one of the LP’s most successful. We Could Make A House
borrows just enough sensibilities from their peers and predecessors, but never over-stepping boundaries into plagiarized or I’ve-heard-this-too-many-times territory. Expectedly but effectively, Theatre bump up the eclecticism of the album with a brief instrumental interlude, “Shotgun Preferably,” which amazingly ends up as one of the band’s most impressive with its progression of twinkly guitars and a milder atmosphere.
Despite this exception, Diaz’s vocals are often the affective anchor of We Could Make A House.
Her vocal skills are mellifluous and fitting; but they are made all the more effective by quite possibly the
most unrecognized artistry in criticism of singers-- knowing when to shut up. It’s truly endearing. Diaz sounds delighted to step up and offer her uptempo, bouncy chords to the band’s effort; but even more impressive is her ability to take a back seat and give the instrumentals room to venture towards a tangent, or let Justin Bardales’s tappa tappa-ing take center-stage. This adds to the cohesive factor of the band’s debut. Nevertheless, her vocals are powerful, and she gives them a sort of indiscernible sense of meaning, typified by the fact that it’s nearly impossible not
to sing along as she belts out, “Please don’t involve me / I don’t want your energy,”
on “Put Some Fruit Juice In There.”
Any fan of melodically-rich indie-pop, a frontwoman proving she can assert herself just as prominently as any guy, or catchy math-rock, will latch onto We Could Make A House
in a big bear hug. The frictionless album is lovably familiar, yet surprisingly exceptional-- like reuniting with an old friend. In retrospect, who even needs the time-traveling quartet of 2002 Minus the Bear Minus Jake Snider when we now have Modern American Theatre catering to our sensibilities. Plus, if we’re going by Doc Brown’s “Back to the Future” theories, a time-traveling MTB would mean no Planet of Ice
, and that’s simply not an option.