When I first heard the Springfield, MO, band Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (or SSLYBY, for you cool kids), I was a senior in college and at a small concert in St. Louis on the campus of Webster University. The band was playing a show in the Student Center there, and I attended with my girlfriend at the time and a friend from high school who were students at Webster. My friend from high school knew the band and were good friends with them, so we sat and chatted with the band a while before the show. They were all great guys and very down to earth. They were two years away from signing to Polyvinyl, and at this show were opening for The Harry Potters.
My, how times have changed for SSLYBY. With the release of their latest effort, Let It Sway, they’re two albums deep into their Polyvinyl contract, receiving high praise from the likes of Spin Magazine and CoS’s Chicago brethren Pitchfork, and playing much larger venues than the Webster University Student Center. Their brand of catchy, upbeat, hook-laden songs are catching a large following across the country.
Let It Sway was produced by Death Cab for Cutie member/super producer Chris Walla and continues that tradition of catchy songs, but some tracks seem a bit restrained. I’m not sure if that is the fault of the band or the producer, but while the songs have some great hooks and make me happy to be walking around on a sunny day, I couldn’t help but feel like there could be more: bigger drums, bigger explosions into the choruses, more dynamic change. The opening track, “Back in the Saddle”, starts with a quiet guitar and solid, almost Phoenix-like vocals, but once the hook hits, it doesn’t hit with the force it should. The same can be said for songs like “Sink/Let it Sway”, “Critical Drain” (though that is a damn fine song), and “Animalkind” – which has the best evidence of this dynamic problem during the song’s breakdown, where the drums could benefit from being just a bit more forward and loud.
All that being said, Let It Sway is still a good album. The songs definitely made me tap my toes and sway my head. SSLYBY is holding on to a musical aesthetic that they have had all along and which is now coming back into vogue: the idea of upbeat and happy songs that are still smart and well written. They aren’t just a sugary sweet pop band. The songs are well crafted and at times take you where you don’t expect. “All Hail Dracula” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It has a great drive from start to finish and has a convention that always gets me in a good happy song: a false ending. A place where the drive pauses, you catch your breath for the next dance, and then BAM – they launch into it again. I’m such a sucker for that. Other favorites are “Critical Drain” and, despite its dynamic misgivings, “Sink/Let it Sway”.
I am looking forward to what else comes from these nice gents from my home state. I have been impressed by everything I’ve heard by them so far. I would give this album a higher rating were it not for what I think is Walla’s doing. If this album had the production of, say, a Pinkerton or Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, then it would be one of the best things I’ve heard in a while. Don’t let that last sentence push you away, though. It is still a fantastic album and one of the better I’ve heard this year. And I’ll bet that these songs played live would be a wonderful time. I’m hoping to catch that soon…hopefully without The Harry Potters on the bill.