ABADABAD - The Wild [EP]
Of all the possible reactions to news of Osama bin Laden's death in Abottabad, Pakistan, I'd have thought that "What a great band name!" would be way down the list, but then I'm not Boston's Jeremy Lee Given. And, despite spelling it incorrectly – a common mistake, apparently – he's been vindicated over the last twelve months by an avalanche of traffic and SEO boosts. Clever fellow? If his choice of nomenclature seems random, it's the only thing that is; many came for the name but stayed for the tunes, a glorious melding of jangle-pop, surf guitar, and sun-kissed warmth.
Those who dropped in for first single 'Indiana' will recall a meandering riff, hazy, distinct vocals, and a straightforward directness – sparse yet fully formed, simple yet toe-tappingly catchy. Its sheen of cool sophistication was underpinned by a heart of pure pop and whimsical lyrics, qualities that won't surprise anyone aware of Given's previous with Rodeo Church, and coupled with the rawness that comes from recording straight to VHS, it all added up to the sort of material that has the rabid blogosphere foaming at the mouth but can't sustain a rising star. With The Wild, he goes some way to developing all that early promise into something tangible, poignant, and heartfelt.
There's a dead-eyed clarity of mood and feeling here, one that encompasses heartbreak, lonesomeness, 50's Americana, and unrequited longing for the local sweetheart. The era of Buddy Holly and the Supremes has long been fashionable – Lana Del Rey, Dirty Beaches, and Dum Dum Girls have all pillaged distinct yet connected motifs – but Given has settled on an unfussy, laissez-faire attitude born squarely in the Golden State. Opening track 'Babe Mountain' is a case in point, an instrumental interlude that's quintessentially Californian – simple, arpeggio chords, lots of reverb, and shimmering cymbals set a scene that continues through the Venice Beach vibes of 'Park Slope (I'm Sorry)' and the doo-wop beat of 'White Lies'.
What's really impressive is the way he conjures such depth of feeling from a few base elements. Sure, there are neat little details here and there – the hint of ragtime piano bubbling under 'Will She Remember Me?', the organ drone that introduces 'White Lies' – but more often than not he's happy to sing with just drums or bass bustling along in the background. Nothing here is muddled, or hurried; up-tempo number 'All The Bros Say' may have garnered all the pre-release attention, but it's 'Park Slope' that really crystallises the ABADABAD 'sound'. Everything – a simple drum machine beat, hazy vocals, trebly guitar lines – flits around a repetitive, one-note riff, while synths fade away as quickly as they appeared, before resurfacing at the end as a dirty drone.
It's spectacularly accomplished, and the perfect riposte to anyone dismissing ABADABAD as just another, happy-clappy, beach-pop band. The Wild is far more sophisticated than that, Beach Boys sentiment tempered with a heavy dose of realism. Delivered from the heart of the mix, as if at the centre of a dream destined for an unhappy ending, the tales here are tinged with heartache and sadness. "Will she remember me / When summer turns to fall?" he laments, a familiar cry to anyone acquainted with holiday romance, while 'White Lies' morphs from being dedicated to "the girl with the pretty face" to "the girl I really love" to "the girl who broke my heart." It's not Danny and Sandy reuniting at the Carnival, but it's not maudlin or depressing either; you get the sense that Given isn't wallowing in self pity, simply representing a world that all too often conspires to dash your hopes and dreams on the rocks of misfortune and coincidence.
Of course, much like Passion Pit and Michael Angelakos' dark and troubled subject matter, many will be unaware or simply choose to ignore such sentiments. That's fine – The Wild will still easily soundtrack lazy days in the park or Indian summer barbeque action, but there's far more going on beneath the surface, and it would be a disservice to ignore the thought and intelligence that's gone into this EP. Yeah, the vibes are great, but the substance is even better.