Phratry‘s State Song has one of the strangest RIYLs I’ve ever seen: The Shins, Sunny Day Real Estate and Ziggy Stardust. I almost entirely disagree with The Shins reference, as there is nothing quirky, warm or bubbly about Dear Hearts & Gentle People whatsoever. Even when I sub in Death Cab for Cutie (a more appropriate RIYL), that’s still one of the weirdest lists ever.
But they are all real elements of State Song’s sound. The modus operandi of State Song’s members is to make songs that have the intensity and aesthetics of rock songs, but the drama and melodies of pop songs. The mix also skews more toward the vocal-centric engineering of pop music. The band that most closely appropriated this style was Deja Entendu-era Brand New, making that album the ultimate (if a bit esoteric) RIYL. Tunes like “4-6prn” move from from nuanced, quiet pop songs to an all-out rock attack, capped off by the mournful roar of Scot Torres.
Torres has the sort of voice I adore. His is on the high end of baritone, so he can ratchet up to a mindblowing intensity without succumbing to a whiny tone. His comfortable range is somewhere around where most people talk, but he can command a muscly tone that borders on a scream (“Highway Machine (Loud Version)”) when he wants to make a point. But when he’s just singing comfortably, his voice sounds weary and real (“Skeleton Key”). If the voice is what makes pop music, he’s got a voice to make it happen.
The songs are brilliant as well; from the emo-rock of opener “Blank Lake” to the supremely Death Cab-esque chill of “The Concierge,” the songs are instantly enjoyable. In addition to its immediacy, it has staying power: It’s a rare album where each song reveals its own wonders, while still hanging together in a cohesive mood. “Houses” drops in some synths that create great atmosphere before the song explodes into throat-shredding, distortion-crushing angst. Then it goes back. “Dig” sounds like a tougher Bright Eyes, which is a huge compliment from over here.
Dear Hearts & Gentle People is an excellent album. Not much rock has impressed me this year, as it’s all just the same old same old. But State Song‘s ten-song collection brings vitality to their songwriting and thus is currently sitting atop the list of “best rock in 2011.” Fans of Brand New will be all over this. Can we get the bands on tour together? Kthx.