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The Saturday Nights - Queenslandicus

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Artist: The Saturday Nights

Album: Queenslandicus

Label: self-released

Review date: May. 9, 2006

The Saturday Nights hail from Chicago, a town where a lot of bands do well playing within and around existing frameworks, building a fanbase around the familiar. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach to music; this approach happens everywhere. Not every band is going to reinvent music on its own terms, not even a little bit. But you have to look towards what is being re-familiarized; you gotta look at context and the times and places. What plays well, what’s in time for today versus what it timeless.

Last fall, I received a very unassuming, two song 7” single by this band, thrown like drunken darts to members of the press. This wasn’t a managed decision; nobody hand-delivered it to whomever fawns over pop bands nowadays. It was an antiquated idea and I’ll bet they are still pushing boxes of it around, but what mattered was that the songs – “Stranded” and “Julianna Convince Me” – were of a ridiculously high quality, langorously performed with an ear for exquisite detail. Again, for a throwback pop band, detail is everything. This is not the most modern method of offering up a teaser release, but then again, they probably realize that they’re not a modern-sounding band most of the time, either. These songs evoked memories of both classic power-pop (the honey-stung balladry of Big Star, Badfinger, and the Raspberries) and more recent devotees to hazy, good-looking fuzz (Sloan, the Brian Jonestown Massacre). “Stranded” was two and a half minutes of bliss; “Julianna Convince Me” melted on my turntable like warm syrup. I was out one slipmat and extremely intrigued by what, if anything, would follow from these guys, because it is just … impossibly rare to connect with a band this quickly.

Queenslandicus arrived, without label support, in a cardboard sleeve. Self-released and gasping for air, the album delivered on the promise of the single, and the full picture was displayed. Inside its 10 songs is promise fulfilled; a band that presents a sound that is at once original and evocative of nostalgia for other perfect pop, woven together in such a manner that it’s almost impossible to tell where the influences end and the genius begins. You’ve heard bands like Belle & Sebastian, Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub, and the earlier solo albums by the Beatles. These are all active, valid jumping off-points within their sound, as are the bands mentioned above. There are many, many bands that would cite those same influences. It’s in the way that the Saturday Nights totally own these sounds that makes them stand far and away from the pack. You won’t get the feeling that you’re listening to some knockoff band that couldn’t write or play without constant affirmations of their talent. Sounds like this are premeditated, but in this case, match perfectly, fit like a velvet glove, and are so charming and debonair, you’ll think you were drugged while listening.

Paul Foreman and Finn Swingley are the frontmen, with Foreman writing seven of the songs here and Swingley picking up the slack. Foreman is responsible for the 10-minute epics (“You Crafty Devil”) and the sticky grenadine waterfalls of colluded psychedelic fuzz (“Catacomb,” “Julianna”). Swingley works more closely; he’s responsible for “Stranded” and the supremely hazy “New Atmosphere,” and his material has a decidedly more vintage, traditional feel to it. Both work, to the point where I would have otherwise assumed that the same person wrote all the songs. The rhythm section of bassist Jason Brammer and drummer Joe Daley hits hard, with deliberate force. It all seems so natural. Production is hot and close, but also has a depth that resonates. (Said depth is important when you’re leaning on buzzsaw guitar effects that you let ring out to Iowa and back.) After years of mostly mastering other people’s records, Carl Saff steps into the engineer and production spotlight like a seasoned veteran, providing analog synth touches and giving these songs just enough gloss.

If bands of this kind want it, there is a world for them in between the loop of just doing it for fun and having their friends’ support, and getting on some Dante Alighieri-model treadmill of hot coals, egged on by some go-nowhere manager who is content to grind the group into dust. This area in between has no glass ceiling, no beginning or end. This is where tiny differences between two bands that sound alike from afar – the differences that separate mediocrity from greatness, one of genre’s most pressing fallacies – come to light. The Saturday Nights are on this path, defying the whims of the public and the fickleness of the market. There really isn’t any other choice for these four guys, and there probably never was. Queenslandicus is a damn near perfect pop album in search of a crowd. I’ll be standing up front.

By Doug Mosurock

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