May 15, 2004

Pants Yell! Songs for Siblings

Pants Yell!. Ugh. Just what the world of music needs, another one of those trendy electroclash girl groups begging the indie kids to get up and dance for once. Their name just makes it obvious, right? Their insistence on using an exclamation point and the whole vibe that you get from the idea of pants yelling just screams, "All right, kiddies, with our drum machines, high-end samplers, and trendiness, we'll get you to get up and shake your asses or die trying!"

I'm kidding. That's what I thought Pants Yell! would be when I first saw their name, but that's not true at all.

Actually, Pants Yell! is mostly acoustic, minimalist indie pop with male lead vocals, the same kind that has been the specialty of the Lucksmiths, Sodastream, and other similar Australian and English bands. But guess what... Pants Yell! is American! Three art school kids from Massachusetts, and they're making music just as good, and perhaps even better than their foreign counterparts. Well, maybe better for me because I relate to their music more easily, since they're closer to my age and from the same country as me. Oh, and maybe it's that complimentary farfisa-ish keyboard they use that's utilized by the more twee bands, rather than their minimalist acoustic contemporaries.

What really makes the record is the songwriting, though. Sure, it's nine songs all about failed relationships and missing ex-significant others (but don't worry, Pants Yell! isn't emo because they're too good and catchy), but they're all interesting enough not to be skipped. First, there's "Go Big Blue", the two-minute opener, which sets us up in a generic American high school at a football game, but at the end, when it's time for Pants Yell! to give a cheer, instead of yelling, "Go, team, go!", they sing, "We don't believe in love! We don't believe in our parents! We've never trusted your songs. Give 'em up! Give 'em up! Give 'em up!" A strange, but appropriate, setup for the rest of the album.

Another highlight, is "My Boyfriend Writes Plays", with lyrics like, "Oh my dear, what has happened to us? It's not clear and all I hear are those buttons clicking and clacking. Spelling out words and what I'm lacking. It's some sense of purpose for you. Fuck your stories, I'm leaving, it's true... With your nose in a book, it's hard to know how I feel." I wonder if that's how things would have turned out between Margaret Yang and Max Fischer at the end of Rushmore.

My favorite track is "Your Favorite Fairgrounds", a boy reminiscing with and about a girl with whom he had gone to the fair one summer. "In the summer heat you couldn't beat the view from the rides. There's nothing to do aside from the standing and harsh demanding tones of the ticket takers you knew... Did I mention the faults of your friends? If I did it then, I will do it again, but this time with more feeling." I love how the song goes off into a little guitar, organ, and drums rave up in the bridge, and then comes a great anticlimax: "I pulled up my jacket. You stood in your skirt. The corduroy backpack was still in the dirt." The song appropriately ends with a quick little carousel-like organ riff. Maybe you have to hear it for yourself to understand why it's so good.

I love this album, even more than anything by Pants Yell!'s foreign contemporaries. Maybe because they're closer to me in age and location. This is definitely a great album for any college-age indie kid having hard luck with love. Rather than just whining about failed relationships in like the stereotypical emo kid would (and maybe a lot of twee pop kids, too, to be honest), Pants Yell! seems to pine over them, while sardonically ridiculing and dismissing them at the same time. Songs For Siblings is mostly acoustic, but you have no plaintive, delicate ballads here. This is music that's good enough to keep giving repeated listens to after you've rebounded and found someone else.

--Eric Wolf

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