Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, arena rockers? For a band whose first two albums sound as though they’re coming to you live from your living room, that’s a bit of a stretch. But on Let It Sway, SSLYBY sounds fuller, punchier and certainly ready to reach out to the kids in the back of the club.
If you’re particularly attached to those first two albums–Broom and Pershing, respectively–this will take a few minutes to get used to. After all, until now this has been a band that specialized in crafting intimacy. Broom was recorded in a house on Weller Street in Springfield, and much of the time it sounds like a late-night don’t-wake-the-neighbors discussion, played gently and sung in a half-whisper. Pershing tried to capture some of the band’s live-show, um, liveliness, but the exhaustingly long recording process left some of the songs sounding worn and even reigned-in. For Let It Sway, the band brought on Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla as producer, and the result is a crisp record that comes alive in stereo and actually sounds as though the band is having fun. The drums are turned up in the recording mix, and it’s a move that pays delightful dividends. This is a band blessed with two very tight, strong-armed drummers-Philip Dickey usually, and Jonathan James for some songs when playing some songs–and with the percussion blasting through more it seems to lead guitarist Will Knauer and James (on bass, traditionally) to turn it up and rock, too. Even the vocals, shared by John Robert Cardwell and Dickey, project better while losing none of their harmonizing.
This is still as much a SSLYBY record as any that came before it, though, a fact that becomes apparent when you realize the songs. Will not. Get out. Of your head. If anything, the band is freed up more than ever to give in to its desire to write cable-tight pop hooks. They’re everywhere on this record. “Everlyn” could make bands such as The Cars, Men At Work and Tommy Tutone wish they had written it. “Sink/Let It Sway” will leave you not even caring that you just sang the line “Pretty girls don’t just park where they want to/They gotta go around in circles like we all do” out loud. (It’s hard not to smile a bit when hearing the line “We’re gonna bomb the Battlefield Mall” in “Back In the Saddle,” too, but that’s more for the local shout-out factor.) These songs don’t carry the past vibe of introspection on rocky relationship situations; this is more the sound of the shy kid who is suddenly determined to get the girl across the room to notice him and smile.
That is, until you get to “All Hail, Dracula!,” where the band throws its biggest surprise and actually rocks with a guitar riff that sounds dusted off from Bleach-era Nirvana. As if to prove the song’s edgier tone isn’t a one-off, the pervading tone in the latter part of Let It Sway is similarly ’90s alternative rock-out, whether it’s the punk-rock drumming of “Critical Drain” or the crazy fuzz-bass of “Phantomwise,” all without sacrificing the band most recognizable characteristics in the process. Is it surprising to hear them succumb to open tuning and feedback? For a band that played at the last Nirvanathon and recorded a cover of Hole‘s “Miss World,” it isn’t. If anything, it may be proof that Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is treating Let It Sway as equal parts motto and album title, opening up and giving in to incorporate what it wants to do into what it does best, to stick all its musical branches out and let the wind take them where they may. They’re feeling it, and they seem determined to make even the back of the club feel it, too.