Born With Stripes, The Donkeys‘ third album, has received numerous comparisons to Pavement, both from critics and the band’s own press release. While some of the space-age noodling is certainly reminiscent of the ’90s alt rock heroes, and the sitar-drenched instrumentals “West Coast Raga” and “East Coast Raga” sound like the second half of Wowee Zowee desert cut ”Half A Canyon”, the similarities end there, and this isn’t a bad thing. As flawless as Pavement’s catalogue is, there’s more than enough snark in today’s indie world, and what sets The Donkeys apart from other retro-inspired brethren is their mellow sincerity, even if it sometimes causes their music to plateau. There is nothing dark or ironic about Born With Stripes, just 12 infectious tracks of breezy California rock, trotting along (but never galloping) at the same pace as the animal that inspired the band’s name.
Opener and first single “Don’t Know We Are” sets the pace at a hooky chug with drummer/vocalist Sam Sprague’s thumping snare and rugged but still clear pipes, an affable middle ground that carries over into “I Like The Way You Walk” until midway through the track. At that point, we see the band punctuating their steady momentum with a bass solo, and all four members sing-shouting “love you with all my heart” through cracks of restrained laughter. The change in aesthetic is immediately captivating and could be used slightly more throughout the rest of the record.
And that’s the one setback to Born With Stripes. It rings a tad one-note. There aren’t any throwaway tracks by any stretch of the imagination, but the best songs are the ones that know how to change up the tone and the pace. Whereas “New Blue Stockings” and “Oxblood” tend to coast, the raucous title track bursts at the seams, and the perpetual crescendo of “Valerie” transcends everything else on the record, building and building with dueling guitar and organ as Sprague employs a throatier tenor to belt out the mystic travels of an enigmatic woman. “Ceiling Tan” and “Bloodhound” are also standouts, their sun-baked twang bolstered by vivid lyrics of lovelorn lethargy.
Musically, Born With Stripes could use a touch more diversity, but vintage chops, summertime hooks, and a lack of filler are all certainly something to be admired.