For probably the 100th time on CoS, I will say “2010 is the last year it’s okay to cop Animal Collective’s sound.” Netherfriends are in with months to spare, but the AC footprint is right smack in the middle of Barry and Sherry. They’re not the only influence, however, as The Flaming Lips can also be heard, as can Paul Simon via Vampire Weekend. But that’s what Netherfriends have going for them: they are current. Or, better yet, they’re relevant. Because, for one, most people won’t complain that “It’s Too Early/If It’s Gone..It’s Gone” sounds like Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective mashed up (Animal Weekend? Vampire Collective?). And the ones who do get it and hear the styles for what they are, well, they’ll probably like it, too. Because, seriously, everyone likes Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend. I swear I heard my mom playing Contra the other day.
The hyper-melodic (or hyper-catchy) elements that Netherfriends borrows from indie’s elite aren’t that far from eachother in that they are both globally influenced, with sounds that originate in Spain, the African continent, and the Caribbean. AC and VW are still fresh enough in the pop consciousness that it doesn’t become immediately apparent when you start Barry and Sherry that this is a second wave album, just when you hear the vocals. And it’s in these vocals that most of the borrowing takes place, the product of hard work from a fellow named Shawn Rosenblatt, the core band member and only consistent touring part. The backing music, also primarily the work of Rosenblatt, varies greatly from track to track, but there’s a clear drop in fidelity from the influences to the influenced. In fact, the iTunes category for this release has Netherfriends listed as mid-fi pop, a term I only have heard used by Chuck Klosterman in his description of Pavement. And though Netherfriends does use what we usually deem lo-fi, their abandonment of this term leads one to believe that they identify less with DIY as an aesthetic and more as just the only option. From the harmonies in “More Than Friends Who Like Good Music” to the guitar in “Steal This Hook”, the details all act as support to the songwriting, and rarely provide more than their role of rhythm. And while it’s very listenable, it would be pretty unfulfilling if not for one attribute. Rosenblatt has something that Noah Lennox and Ezra Koenegg wish they had and that is a razor sharp wit and lyrical insight, which allows him to avoid being the Diet Coke of indie.
Take the album opener, “Bret Easton Ellis Novel”. Mentioning Bret Easton Ellis will not be lost on most hipsters, but I’d imagine about half the listeners will have to Wikipedia that shit. I’ve got three novels under my belt, and I can imagine being in a hipster band would be a lot like the scenester characters Ellis uses in his satires. And, the inclusion of “everyone is talking shit” made me laugh, as do other lines throughout the collection. And I don’t like funny music. Clever I can dig, but music that is trying to be funny generally isn’t. On Barry and Sherry, for every musing about the amount of people that die for the spices no one uses, there are lines like “no one cares about the songs I write and sing today.” That’s not funny. In fact, the humor serves as a foil, using the lightness of the material and sneaking in lines like this. When the punches hit, they sting hard. It plays like the artist has to share a part of himself but is trying to lull the listener with seemingly inane tales, and, surprisingly, it kind of works.
If it accomplishes anything, Barry and Sherry reaffirms that you can’t underestimate the value of lyrics that are interesting without being unintelligible. In fact, that line is from “It’s Too Early/If It’s Gone…It’s Gone”, a song that comes across equally silly and heartfelt as the voice worries about premature baldness with directness and insecurity that is, well, brutal. But, he’s also writing a song about premature baldness, which makes it comedic by default.
Speaking of underestimation, you also can’t underestimate the value of damn catchy music. Sure it can seem manipulative to get you hooked, then disappoints by not maintaining the infectiousness through repeat listens, but writing eight catchy songs, and not sensitive ballads but material that is fun and engaging… well, that is an accomplishment in itself.
But, I keep coming back to the words. To see a young songwriter play with hiding through humor, lulling the audience to sleep and revealing relatable and seemingly personal details is remarkable in how smart it is. I think of a band like Pavement and Stephen Malkmus, who often sings goofy stories like this. You remember the one-liners, like “Irish folk tales scare the shit out of me”, but this makes the profound moments that much more special and what resonates years after the song is conceived, like “You’ve got to pay your dues before you pay ther rent.” They always say the best comedians are the most depressed, the idea of the sad clown, which Malkmus never seemed to be but Rosenblatt can probably identify as. But his personal, revealing moments are sadly relating, ambitious, and deep. Hopefully, he will eventually find his own method for which to express these thoughts. He has six months to do so.