REVIEW: The Washboard Abs - Have You Scanned Ur Club Card?

Raquel Dalarossa

There’s a scene in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which Jim Carey’s character is tasked with hiding the memory of his girlfriend within some other, distant memory where she doesn’t belong. After a moment of thought, Carey’s eyes light up, we hear a child singing “Row Your Boat,” and we see rain start to fall inside his apartment as the strands of his infancy slowly come back to him. He ends up among his memories as a four-year-old.

This is the only scene where Jon Brion’s score for the movie takes an overtly sentimental tone—beyond being just nostalgic, his track “Row” actually glows with the soft happiness and solace of revisiting one’s childhood, despite the fact that it’s really just a simple piano tune. And this was the particular tune and the sentiment that came to mind when I first put on The Washboard Abs’ full-length debut, Have You Scanned Ur Club Card?, and specifically its second track, “Window.”

For full disclosure’s sake, I will say that Eternal Sunshine is one of my favorite films, and I’ve always considered Jon Brion’s work on it to be top-notch. But my comparison here is not to imply that I’ve fully enjoyed Club Card—though, I have. Mostly, it’s to point out how emotive an album this is, and the impressive fact that this little bedroom-pop gem can conjure up the same intensity of feelings as a movie and its score combined.

Coming from an act with a name like “The Washboard Abs,” it can be a bit surprising when this album immediately wraps you in such a warm, gentle embrace. But behind the project is Clarke Sondermann, who has been spinning songs with his guitar under the cheeky moniker for almost two years—but is just now putting together an official release via Antiquated Future Records. The twelve-track “debut” incorporates tracks previously heard on Sondermann’s pretty frequently-updated Bandcamp, but pulls new material in as well. 

Though the bedroom-pop label is a pretty accurate one for most of Sondermann’s work, there are times when he ventures off his own beaten path—sometimes he finds a sound akin to early Eels or The Radio Dept. (incorporating jarring, wall-of-sound techniques and bits of looping effects and samples), and other times he ends up near Band of Horses territory (“Something New,” for example, brings in a full band and approaches an Americana sound).

But his best work borrows from lo-fi pop and folk while keeping electronic techniques just barely within his frame of reference. “Okay,” which wears its melancholy closer to its sleeve than the rest of the album's tracks, relies on acoustic guitar for the melody, but pushes Sondermann’s vocals to the background while mixing in chopped-up snippets of people talking and yelling. It comes across like a distant, imperfect memory—one that feels sad but you can’t remember exactly why. 

Such is the strength of the album as a whole. Although it sags a little in its middle section with songs that start to blend together a little too much, Have You Scanned Ur Club Card? is mostly an album that gently wakes up your senses and makes you feel. For any work of art to accomplish that is surely a home run.