HEY! Get updates to this and the CD and 7" blogs via Twitter: @VinylUnderbite

1 February 2016

The Gerbils - 'The Battle of Electricity' (Orange Twin)

The Gerbils are pretty much forgotten now, but were pretty much forgotten when they were happening, too, at least outside of their Athens-based scene. They were dismissed as a Neutral Milk Hotel side project, one of the more obscure offshoots of the Elephant 6 thing, which meant they got lumped in with those bands just by their associations. And who can blame us? Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes are half of the Gerbils and also half of Neutral Milk hotel; the other two guys were certainly a big part of the Athens, GA pop scene around the turn of the millenium and the Gerbils managed to record two albums and a handful of 7"s before disappearing completely. And their sound is also pretty similar to their other bands, in that they are built around fuzzy guitar pop with some external instruments (horns, melodicas) as accents. This album is made up of ten songs with untitled interstitial tracks in between, some slow and dirgy and others a bit more spry. Vocalists Spillane and John D'Azzo harmonise in a very classic indie-pop singing style - not too gruff, occasionally reaching for low registers and helping to deliver the lyrics which are slightly dark and cynical ('The Air Up There' lyrically belies the jaunty shuffle of its music; 'Lucky Girl' is likewise more bitter than it's high-pitched, bright indie-pop cadence suggests). 'Snorkel', the title track, and 'Share Again' are a trilogy near the end, without these instrumental passages. The first of them is a slow song about going to the beach that keeps threatening to crash like a wave; for seemingly slight subject matter, it feels huge and monolithic. The interludes aren't filler; there's two in a row on side two, and they are lovely. They not only show some diverse musical influences with this limited palette (there's a pre-rock pop music feel at times, almost Tin Pan Alley, plus some funereal dirges and impressionistic sketches); they also serve to tie the whole thing together and make this feel like a proper band, despite drummer Barnes credited not with a kit but 'snare drum, floor tom, cymbal'. The Gerbils know when to step on their fuzz pedals and amp things up; 'Meteoroid from the Sun Strikes a Dead Weirdo' feels as punk as things ever get in this scene, and 'The White Sky' has some near blast beats behind it's shimmying keyboard licks and fast chord changes. The whole "indie pop" sound has been so maligned over the years, particularly by those who focus on the Calvin Johnson sweater-wearing cuteness that came out of the Pacific Northwest and all of the attendant developmental disorders that went with it. But I have a real soft spot for the bright lights of that movement, some of the 90s most memorable bands, who actually sound a lot more diverse and some, such as Tullycraft, even feel like spiritual descendants of punk. At its best, great indie-pop can convey a wistful sentiment such as  'Not a night goes by that I don't think of you / I watch you in my darkened room / Electricity was invented when I was left like this again' with a feeling of approachability, solidarity, and craft. The Gerbils had this in spades, and while it's hard to truly sonically separate them from that genre, they, like many of the best examples of any scene, stand apart.

No comments:

Post a Comment