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The 1900s – Medium High

on January 19, 2009, 3:00pm
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Chicago is a city known for it’s versatile flavor of original acts. We’ve dealt the world a whole gamete of miscellaneous bands from a slew of genres, and each new year provides a broader spectrum from which new, tiny little bands that could sprout up and “rock out.” The 1900s aren’t going to pull any punk-laden punches, but they will manage to staying your head. Medium High, their latest effort from Parasol Records, is a strong attestation to that.

Though they are likened to easy-listening acts like The Shins, and Vampire Weekend’s softer tunes in the sonic sense, they are a smack in the introspectively lyrical realm: “And you know you ask for common sense/maybe you should leave me where it ends.” (Collections) This is just an example of the a wonderfully crafted hotbed of insecurity they provide in such a soothing manner it’s a wonder you’re not in the waiting room of the hippest dental office in town. The “gloves-off” edge The 1900s sling at you while sounding as though they’re calmly talking you down from a ledge is a mesmerising testament to how people with patience deal with the pain and suffering love can deal you. It’s an ironic delivery that makes you think about the tribulations of love without deciding to forgo the risks of it completely. This is very difficult to do without power chords, and they manage to capitalize on this with shocking ease.

The music gorgeously backs lead singer-Edward Anderson’s carefully crafted, unassuming pop vocals. It sounds like an album-long audition for a latter-days version of Belle and Sebastian, and it’s difficult to discern whether or not this record was actually released in 1997 or not. This is not necessarily a bad thing seeing as how indie-rocks recent “trend” is to offer a great deal of bands attempting to rekindle the nostalgia of the early 2000s by looking back to move forward. At times it feels as though we’ve found our modern-day Fleetwood Mac, without the elaborately designed Stevie Nicks-costumes or mountains of Colombian snow. “Listen up, I never thought I’d be so sad/I’ve been touched in places, by very scary hands,” sings Caroline Donovan and/or Jeanine O’Toole during “When I say Cohen”. If this doesn’t remind you of Nicks and Christine McVie fighting over the male members of “The Mac” you’re unaware of the soap opera coed bands are capable of conveying with striking honesty.

From start to finish, Medium High reminds us what’s possible when young people hoard their parent’s record collection for fresh ideas on how to turn back the clock without putting us to sleep. Though this is a great record to listen to while dozing off, the album as a whole is a “sleeper” of a sensation most of you would enjoy more than anything Ryan Adams has offered us when trying to stretch his talents too thin. If you don’t get what I mean you’re (a) a casual fan of alternative rock, and (b) entirely unaware bands other than David Cook’s aren’t relevant. We probably wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation over Zima, and spring rolls, and it’s likely we should never meet.

Their previous record’s most vexing lyric perhaps best explains the lasting impression The 1900s leave us with: “Waiting for the one I love, I’ve been forgetting you.” While they may never be your favorite band, they’re certainly a quality reminder that more popular acts have their work cut out for them to produce albums that are as easy to listen to as their latest offering. The 1900s may never headline Coachella, but they will manage to pull a few kids away from the main stage where some indie-darling-diva may be having a mental breakdown on stage (ahem, Cat Power… er Chan Marshall). Sometimes it’s the subtly with which emotional pain is explained that gets the point across far better than stumbling through a live set thousands have paid a pretty penny to witness. Get me?

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