Critics' Picks

The Waxwings

Lord knows every song that appears on The Waxwings' just-released debut, Low to the Ground, has appeared elsewhere at least once or twice, or maybe a hundred times. To believe otherwise, you'd have to rid record stores of every copy of Odyssey & Oracle, Pet Sounds, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, and The Village Green Preservation Society. Actually, while you're at it, grab Ogden's Nut Gone Flake and pretty much everything recorded by The Byrds as well. Every ringing guitar riff, cigar-box drum sound, and ba-ba-backup vocal on Low to the Ground can be traced directly to its source, carbon-dated and cataloged for convenience. It's a dead giveaway that a disc is going to be past perfect when the first song ("Keeping the Sparks") contains a chorus as stilted and literate as, "Needless to say / You look striking." No one writes like that anymore, though when "Oops...I did it again," passes for a credible lyric, you kinda wish more people would.

That said, not all of The Waxwings' thefts date back 30 years. You can hear bits of the Plimsouls ("While You Spiral," though that just might be the echoes of the Byrds), and even Wilco ("Into the Scenery," but then there are little pieces of Jeff Tweedy's songs everywhere). Perhaps the most notable lift is the way singer-guitarist Dean Fertita sounds just like former Stone Roses vocalist Ian Brown, especially on songs such as "Into The Scenery" and "Low Ceiling," though those are only the two most glaring examples out of 11 possible, entirely worthy candidates. But it's more than an impersonation: You have to check the credits to make sure it isn't Brown, and I'm still not sure he isn't performing under an assumed name. Of course, about eight people would give a damn either way. And I know four of them.

That The Waxwings don't necessarily have their own sound is not that big of a deal. The fact is, everything sounds like everything else if you think about it long enough. (Listen to "Beyond the Sunrise" off the new Belle & Sebastian disc, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, and tell me you don't hear Metallica's "One." Seriously.) The real problem here is that--no matter how hard you try, and no matter how easy The Waxwings make it for you--it is impossible to hate Low to the Ground. I tried, I really did. Looking at the photo on the front cover of the album, a hazy shot of the boys in their thrift-store best and all sporting mid-'60s Mick-and-Keef shags, it wasn't hard to suss out their particular era of influence. Add to that the other period details (isn't it weird to refer to a track listing as being split into separate "sides"?), and The Waxwings clearly want their band to look and sound old, which it does.

Yet The Waxwings manage to look fondly at the past without completely taking their eyes off the future, or at worst, the present. Like Zumpano and Spectacle and Sloan and a handful of other bands that not many people have heard about and fewer have heard (and still fewer care about), The Waxwings--Fertita, singer-guitarist Dominic Romano, bassist Kevin Peyok, drummer James Edmunds--pull it off, shining up something old just enough to make you forget it's been in the closet for three decades. They suck you right in, despite any attempts to fight back. I mean, there is nothing original here--not the melodies, not the lyrics, not the arrangements, not one...single...thing. As guilty as I feel about it, I just don't care.

Zac Crain

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain