Yeah I Know, the debut recording from NYC’s garage pop Darlings, comes packaged with an elaborate book of black and white photographs. Blown up to pixel-revealing size, the photos evoke childhood memories of beehive hairdos, snowsuits and one surprising gay kiss – but they can’t be the band members’ memories. Born long past the age of grey-tone snapshots, their first steps, Christmas mornings and prom costumes would have been recorded with video cameras.
What does it mean when a bunch of hip post-collegiate New Yorkers appropriate their parents’ memories? Maybe that the changes are only superficial, that really being 20-something is still a matter of making out on couches and watching TV, that Rubber Soul and Sticky Fingers still dominate the battle for garage pop influence, that youthful energies can still be channeled into living room bacchanals where beefy young men crowd-surf and pogo wrecklessly and girls stick to the safe corners away from the mayhem. It means that, as an album, Yeah I Know feels both familiar and oddly fresh. It’s an old car running on high-test gas. It’s the ephemera high energy of new adulthood funneled through well-travelled pop channels. And, not so remarkably, that energy carries the day. Whether you grew up on the Stones, the Replacements, Pavement or the Thermals, its sloppy exuberance will resonate like an old photo of a putatively simpler time.
In one way, Yeah I Know is rooted in the now, songs about intern and entry-level poverty (“Eviction Party”) jittering on post-financial meltdown nerves, getting drunk on cheap beer and winding up out the window with a chandelier wrapped around the neck. The sweetness of melodic guitars and swaddling comfort of fuzz sweetens the uncertainty, the pounding one-two drums (downbeats on the snare, ups on the bass drums) pushing the angst ahead. Songs are both bashed out and bashful, the singer coyly spelling “G-I-R-L-I-L-O-V-E” in “Gorilla,” instead of saying it, and observing that “it takes a lot of nerve to dance.” Innocents work at cynicism here, drawling “Yeah I know” with a world-weary sarcasm, yet retaining a fresh-faced enthusiasm in the bright melodies and thickets of strummed guitars. “I’ve got a mouth that’s full of fists,” they sing, triumphantly in the title track, and whether that means they are chewing their own knuckles in uncertainty or getting clocked in the mouth by someone else, there’s a buoyancy in the song that rises above the image.
The whole album takes less than half an hour, all fizz and buzz and puppyish pop vulnerability. It’s a sweet little ride, over too soon, but one you don’t remember all that well in its particulars. It may borrow a little here and there from the recent and not-so-recent past, but let’s face it, this kind of music can only be made by the very young. If you’re 19, it will sound like last night’s party. If you’re 25, 35, even 45, it will remind you that your past is still going on, happening somewhere in a basement or rec room to other people in slightly different clothes. Youth is always draining away at the bottom, always being replenished on top, and if Darlings have a lock on it this year, bless them for reminding us what it sounds like.