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Saturday Looks Good To Me - All Your Summer Songs

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Artist: Saturday Looks Good To Me

Album: All Your Summer Songs

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Apr. 10, 2003

Unaverage Pop from Southeast Michigan

Saturday Looks Good to Me (SLGTM) make soulful songs, erudite in music history and production techniques, for purposes of dancing and crying. They have the unique gift of sounding equally interesting on their recordings and in their live shows. For some three years, they have been playing in and around Southeast Michigan to an enthusiastic indie-pop crowd, recording for local labels including chief songwriter Fred Thomas' Ypsilanti Records.

Fans have long anticipated that the band would sign to a larger label, but few could have guessed that it would be Polyvinyl, best known for releases by emo bands like Rainer Maria, Braid, and Aloha. The marriage may seem odd, but thus far it seems to be a happy one; the record doesn't disappoint and the band was very well received on their recent tour opening for Mates of State and Rainer Maria.

The new album, All Your Summer Songs, is largely Motown- and Beach Boys-inspired pop where horns, strings, and gritty percussion are presented with reverence for the great masters of four-track recording. The production and editing, courtesy of Fred Thomas and His Name is Alive mastermind Warn DeFever, misses few chances to cite Detroit's beloved DIY musical history, from garage music to Berry Gordy. But Thomas also has a brilliant sense of modern pop songwriting, so the songs do not feel glued to reference points. There are moments that remind of Belle and Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel, though these are never dwelled upon extensively.

A fog of cliche in the production and lyrics is tempered by an irony borne not of disdain or sarcasm, but of love for sincerity. Like Stephin Merritt, Thomas won't shy away from writing and singing simple sentiments ("are we breaking up?") because, as everyone knows or discovers, these things are never as simple as they seem. Just because love can be explored in great depth doesn't mean people have anything but a rudimentary understanding of its mechanisms. It's a very humble(d) approach.

This tone of awareness and honesty is set early, when the singer summons her beloved to "meet me by the water, beneath the big beehive," and to "bring your record player and your Raincoats 45s. . . dance with me, beneath the circuitry." Suffice it to say, most waterfronts do not have electrical outlets, and even if they did, they would be awkward places to dance, especially to the Raincoats. All this makes the line as funny as it is touching in its earnest evocation. Towards the end of the track, the singing breaks up into echoed fragments, before segueing with perfect rhythm into "Underwater Heartbeat," a very catchy uptempo pop tune with rich strings and horns.

At precisely the right time comes the first and best ballad on the record, "Ambulance," a reflection on Thomas' father, who used to drive one. The words are great, though it would have been preferable for Thomas himself to have sung these lyrics, because they are so personal. The variety made possible by many different singers is an important goal, and works well overall for this album, yet for "Ambulance" in particular one feels an unfortunate detachment between songwriter and content.

"Ambulance" is the beginning of a long string of sad and slow songs (that is, unless you have the LP, which has two extra tracks including the wonderful, garage-y "Light Bulb Heart" to break the succession) that give the album more depth than it would have as a one-dimensional dance record. This might dash the hopes of some listeners, but for others and in the long term they give All Your Summer Songs an emotional depth that leaves any notion of superficiality or faddishness far behind.

The best pop song on the record is "Alcohol," which explodes into being with a crunchy overdriven guitar, and then never looks back. For danceability and hooks, it is unmatched in SLGTM's catalog and will likely attract the most ears as people begin discovering the band.

By Ben Tausig

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