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Pants Yell! - Received Pronunciation

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Artist: Pants Yell!

Album: Received Pronunciation

Label: Slumberland

Review date: Nov. 10, 2009

Lately, lots of bands have their sights on the C-86 sound – jangly, effete, fluid romantic pop – but Pants Yell! seems to be drifting away from it. There’s an off-kilter angst in the guitar riffs that surround Andrew Churchman’s slippery croons, an almost mathy syncopation and energy. An edgy, caffeinated energy pervades Received Pronunciation, making it more interesting that it would otherwise be, but not quite saving it.

If you compare Received Pronunciation to 200x’s Alison Statton a slight but palpable uptick in abrasion emerges. Smooth, sustained bits – like the languid guitar slides in “Evan’s Wood” or the Cure-like washes of synths in “Two French Sisters” – have been tamped down. Guitar lines stutter stop-start strum-lines, slashing ahead then pulling back (“Got to Stop”), or jittering off-balance in asymmetrical bursts (“Rue de La Paix”). Churchman still sings like a lo-fi, slightly flat Morrissey, blowing fleeting impressions out into lush romantic gestures, but he is hedged and braced by tougher arrangements this time.

That makes sense, because though Pants Yell! is fundamentally a pop band, it is connected by friendship and cross-membership with a more experimental Boston scene. Received Pronunciation is the second album to put Casey Keenan, ex- of the Major Stars, behind the drums, raising the rhythmic temperature. (Though Keenan also wrote the short, way too cute “Spider”, the twee-est cut on the album, so it works both ways.) Keenan and bass player Sterling Bryant work angst and aggression into even the swooniest Churchman compositions, building a continual friction between pop melodies and post-punk-ish arrangements. “Cold Hands,” for instance, pits elongated, heart-on-sleeve vocals against thickets of percussive sound, little off-tuned guitar and bass counterpoints darting in and out of the melody. Churchman is serene at the center of a complicated racket. Later in “Marble Stairs,” the best of this album’s tracks, the surround mesh becomes even denser and more manic, broken into off-center phrases and studded with double-timed handclaps.

The main weakness is the lyrics, tethered to the most transient and mundane of romantic experiences, and lacking the bite and cleverness to make the ordinary interesting. Churchman seems, quite often, to be singing whatever comes into his head at the moment. The big dramatic moment in “Got to Stop” comes when Churchman spits out, “Does that asshole ever tell you that he still thinks of Megan?” Or in “Frank and Sandy”, the best line turns out to be, “A headache never felt so good / I’m glad I had more gin than candy.” It’s boring and nowhere near universal, like standing at a party where all people want to talk about is how much they had to drink last time and who made out with who.

Great pop is almost accidental, a convergence of hook and riff and longing that transcends its parts. Received Pronunciation has a certain amount of sloppy, choppy charm, but never quite gels . Not bad, but not very memorable.

By Jennifer Kelly

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