Review Summary: Why anybody would want to keep this a secret is beyond me.
And a voice on the other end of the phone says, "Why don't you write a song about it"
It's nice to see a musician acknowledge that writing music and performing in a band is a somewhat important part of their life. After all, most of the bands that claim to write about real, relatable problems
are decidedly false in their approach to that promise; they pick and choose the parts they think will strike a chord with their audience, rather than relying on their inherent humanity and honesty to shine through. The Format aren't like that. In fact, Interventions and Lullabies doesn't try to do very much at all without the foundations of reality and honesty to work from. Remarkedly simple and for the most part stripped down, their debut LP is probably the least pretentious album of all time. That's not to say that it's mindless or that it lacks impact; as a matter of fact, its simplicity is the reason its intelligence and emotional value are able to shine through. Free from pretense, they come across as endearing, human and talented, without seeming to be playing on any of those qualities for the sake of applause.
With a name like The Format and an opening track called The First Single, critics everywhere have asserted that everyone was expecting a generic pop band, but actually those two points of reference should just serve as an indication that this indie-pop two-piece from Arizona have a modicum of self-awareness. They don't rip pop music to pieces in any attention-seekingly ironic fashion, instead choosing to craft their own brand of Beatles- and Beach Boys-influenced indie music with summery, infectious melodies and jangly guitars, but they're also far from a cookie-cutter alternative band with a commercialised business plan. Fronted by grade school friends Nate Ruess and Sam Means, the first notable thing about their sound is Ruess' vocals, which don't assault or crush you but hold a sweet, heartfelt softness which works its slow-burning magic over the course of twelve songs and puts you right there next to him. It's almost like you're eavesdropping.
From the toe-tapping bass of Tie The Rope's verses, through the nostalgic picked guitars of On Your Porch, all the way to the handclaps and clever percussion of The First Single's chorus, Interventions and Lullabies is a record full of crucial but subtle musical brilliance, never striking until you listen and deconstruct the songs. And there's no real reason to do that - you'll be paying far too much attention to Ruess' words for that. As he sings lines like, 'So here I sit, in a hotel off of Sunset, and my thoughts bounce off of Sam's guitar / And that's the way it's been, ever since we were kids but now, now we've got something to prove,'
the musical backdrop is important but never desperate to take centre-stage, just offering the builds and variety that keep everything feel fresh. Song to song, the (normally acoustic) guitars switch tempo and strumming patterns, so no song feels the same as the last. Despite the largely acoustic-pop approach, it's practically impossible to confuse two of The Format's songs off the back of their tune sense, and when they do turn the volume up - which is a relative term - they're anthemic and driven, like on Sore Thumb.
These songs rarely change direction in any dramatic manner and stick to verses and choruses almost religiously, but the fact that they're so consistently great makes that lack of structural surprise irrelevant; usually, the tracks build gradually and though the climaxes are gentle that's usually because there hasn't been a lull in quality or enjoyability in forever. As Ruess interrupts himself and self-analyses with hook lines, there's a permanently personable aesthetic to the way these songs are crafted. Give It Up especially illustrates the band's penchant for moving, open self-reflection, as it talks about ambition and moving away from home with lines like, 'So the stairs that you could climb, are the ones you've left behind, and youre eyes light up when we talk about the past.
The first verse's backdrop of acoustic guitars picks up a piano, bass, drums and something deep and brassy along the way, but the track never aspires to more than a medium tempo, remaining mellow despite it's subtle mixture of instruments.
And it's this restraint, this satisfaction with telling heartbroken and uplifting stories over walls of stripped guitars and gradually intoxicating beats that makes Interventions and Lullabies so real and charming; hooks abound, and despite demanding attention they never feel self-important or manufactured, just integral parts of well-written indie-pop songs that have their roots firmly in the real world. There's no doubt that The Format are intuitively clever, but it's the fact that they're also cleverly intuitive that renders their debut record so effective and infinitely listenable. You won't find anything technically superb outside of the lyrics; the skill is in the songwriting, and on that level, The Format have it all pretty much figured out.
I'd hate this place if it werent for the waves, if it werent for the fact that you love it.