Who’d have thought one of the best indie rock debuts of the season would come from an Ivy League-bred, string-centered quintet? This New York-by-way-of-Princeton five-piece ekes about as much pop sensibility from jazz instrumentation as anyone not named Walter Becker or Donald Fagen.
Miracles of Modern Science‘s debut full-length, Dog Year, is crafted using only a violin, cello, mandolin, bass, and drums, which they implement in more of a rock and roll style than the baroque stylings of chamber pop. Put to perfect use in “Strangerous”, a bombastic love song, the violin takes a rhythmic role while the mandolin carries the melody. It’s songs like this and the frantic “Eating Me Alive” where the fun the band is having carries over into the music. They can also dial down the pomp when desired; male and female vocals trade off beautifully between the verse and chorus on “Quantum of Solace”, while the strings and drums paint a dense backdrop to their voices.
Perhaps most charming of all is how the band refuses to take itself seriously, from goofy plays on words in song titles (“MOMS AWAY!”, “Strangerous”) to the obligingly geeky obsession with outer space (“Space Chopper”, “I Found Space”, and “Bossa Supernova”). A secret track on the album lyrically involving a cheatin’ wife, a cyborg, and a dart accident that leads to a quadruple-amputation is a weird shanty in the vein of early Primus, and it’s one of the funnier tracks heard this year.
Their lack of pretense and relatively unique approach keeps their music from ever even approaching stuffiness, despite the more stiff-collared associations of their choice in instruments. Kudos to Miracles of Modern Science for not sounding like any other band out there right now, a truly impressive feat in our current trend-driven indie climate.
Essential Songs: “Strangerous” and “Quantum of Solace”