“Psychedelic pop that evokes sixties mod optimism” isn’t usually the sort of description that gets me too excited for a band. It sounds like the loquacity of a group that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be Lucius or Portugal. The Man, and just ended up mashing styles together into something derivative and boring.
Modern Rivals, however, proved my presumptuous ass to be pretty thoroughly wrong. Their debut album, Cemetery Dares, is a beautiful example of how to utilize elements of influential styles without descending into plagiarism. Here and there are hints of Zombies-esque vocal arrangements and drawn-out, hallucinatory instrumental sections, but each ingredient is used sparingly and with purpose.
A friend remarked that their music sounded shockingly familiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly who it was they brought to mind. That’s because they sound a little bit like a whole lot of bands, and exactly like no one.
Cemetery Dares ranges from upbeat and nostalgic (“Dig Up the Sunset”) to contemplative and even a bit reserved (“The Ice”) without ever sacrificing consistency. The two forces are always at play, with one or the other occasionally winning out for a moment before slipping back into equilibrium. It’s as if the exuberant innocence of a band like Miniature Tigers was tempered by the introspective streak of Local Natives, and the resulting tone is remarkably cohesive.
While there are ostensibly two singles, “The Dead Leaves (Danse Macabre Midnight)” and “Pins and Stitches,” this is definitely an album that begs to be enjoyed as a whole. The track order feels very deliberate, and though no two songs are jarringly different in style, the energy ebbs and flows in a way that gives it an interesting structure.
A strong debut is always exciting, and Modern Rivals have certainly come out of the gate with a bang. I think it’s fair to say that these guys have a bright future.
Cemetery Dares drops today, and those of you who live in or around New York City can swing by Glasslands in Brooklyn tonight to catch the album release party.