If it seems, hmm, "lazy" to group together 2 reviews instead of spacing these out separately, so be it. My mission here is simple and not one that's designed to save time typing: I need to tell you how great these 2 new Slumberland Records albums are. One is from a new band and one advances an established band's craft and, by extension, the whole Slumberland ethos (in a sense). The new band is Real Numbers, from Minneapolis, and the other band is Terry Malts, from L.A. But first, let's look at the Real Numbers disc.
Wordless Wonder, out Friday from Slumberland Records, is the first Real Numbers album and it's a downright wonderful way to let this band introduce themselves to the indie world. If one of the first (and best) Slumberland bands took their name from a Primal Scream B-side (Velocity Girl, if you didn't know that) to let you know what they liked, then this lot have absorbed the entire C86 sound whole in order to perfectly recreate it here in the 21st century. "Frank Infatuation" sounds so utterly English that one could be forgiven for thinking that this was a Bodines rarity, or another Primal Scream flip from the same era. Stuff like "Only Two Can Play" manages to remind listeners that prior generations' indie, specifically the stuff that came out 1986-1987 or so, didn't just favor feedback; there was then, as there is on this cut, a decided throwback to not only the Nuggets-era stuff's anti-mainstream appeal, but a very intense Sixties-style appreciation of melody and a good hook. Tracks like "Falling Out" are then a bunch of kids in the 21st century referring back to a bunch of kids, on another continent, some 30 years ago who were aping styles from the first few years after the Beatles hit it big. That's a pretty complicated way to describe what is such simple music but it gets at how perfectly the cuts of Real Numbers accomplish their mission. If "New Boy" very nearly goes back even further past the obvious C86-isms, to a bit of Buzzcocks or Undertones new wave chord-heavy pop, then the insistent "Public Domain" blends a trace of Joy Division with something that feels like Jesus and Mary Chain minus the feedback.
Even more than what Baltimore's Expert Alterations accomplished on their superb debut full-length last year, the tracks here from Minneapolis's Real Numbers are so perfectly redolent of the past that it's downright eerie. For now, this debut is enough. The joys here are rich for anyone who's loved any C86 band so fervently and so I can only say buy this one to relive that earlier era and hear the start of a brand new one. Wordless Wonder is an excellent distillation of a (past) generation's best indie-pop into one flawless album. And there's not a dud in the lot, really.
Which now brings us to Slumberland Records mainstays Terry Malts who are here to change minds with new one Lost at the Party, out Friday.
This being the third record from the band on the label, one could enter into this thinking that one had a good idea of what was to come. No, no, no. Lost at the Party is a major step forward for this act. The band has managed to retain their fire while making things a bit slicker, a bit more evenly produced. If things here have an Eighties sheen, it's in order to communicate more directly to listeners. Cuts like "Used to Be" and "Seen Everything" manage to offer strong alt-rock moments that should please fans of stuff from Echo and the Bunnymen to The dB's. I don't say that lightly as "Seen Everything" very noticeably echoes the hook in dB's staple "(I Thought) You Wanted to Know", enough so that Chris Stamey should be a fan of this band now.
Still, for all that, there are tracks here that are downright sublime: the New Order-ish "Waiting for the Bomb" or the pulsing Joy Division-ish bits on "Playtime", for instance. By name-checking so many bands like those in this review it would seem as if I'm implying that Terry Malts, on this their first album recorded in a genuine studio, are simply pilfering from the past, ransacking the best bits from a lifetime of new wave staples, and that's hardly my point. The reality is that rather than nick those bits haphazardly, the group has expertly blended some pretty disparate elements in order to produce a record that is something new, and certainly something different than quite a bit of the earlier guitar-rock that made this label famous. Terry Malts are, like The Killers before them, cranking out something slick that still retains a hint of the genuinely alternative with the difference being that Terry Malts are far better at this than Brandon Flowers' crew, frankly. Lost at the Party has a holistic sheen that makes you forget that some of these bits you've heard before in an old Simple Minds or Psychedelic Furs single, you know? I mean, stand-out cut "Gentle Eyes" simultaneously echoes a Sugar hook, the rhythm track from "I Melt With You" by Modern English, and about a dozen Bernard Sumner pieces of work. And to say that is not to diminish the effect here but, rather, to celebrate how seamlessly Terry Malts have reinvented themselves as a band who can get away with this kind of throwback college rock. 'Cause, really, if the pieces on Lost at the Party are all not entirely original, at least the overall effect is a fresh one. It's an invigorating listen, this album, 'cause nearly every cut feels like a single. And, yeah, there are going to be a whole lot of new Terry Malts fans out there after this one drops.