Monday, December 9, 2013

REVIEW: The Stevens - A History of Hygiene

The Stevens are a band that quite clearly deserve to be covered on this blog.  Why?  Of course I think they make good music, so that is reason number one.  But a more specific reason is found in the type of music this Melbourne outfit plays.  This blog takes its name from the work of Ohio band Guided By Voices.  And the album I've heard this year that sounds the most like a classic Guided By Voices album without being an album by Guided By Voices (or one of Pollard's other projects) is A History of Hygiene.  The album is a treasure trove of lo-fi guitar pop, often with quirky titles.  Of the generous offering of 24 tracks, only four of them run past 2:30 in length and only one breaks the three minute barrier.  And for my money, some of the best are less than two minute - melodic, hooky and leaving you yearning for more.

The Stevens were founded by guitarists/songwriters Travis MacDonald and Alex Macfarlane.  The band now includes bassist Gus Lord (who also is in Boomgates) and drummer Matt Harkin.  They have a previous EP to their credit, which sufficiently impressed Guy Blackman of Chapter Music that he snapped them up for his label.  For this, their debut, the band seems to be following a very deliberate and specific path.  Their influences, which in addition to GBV probably include New Zealand guitar pop, some Brit Pop, and American '90s bands such as Pavement, are channeled into songs that are only lightly polished, and end just as the taste begins to become intense.  Most of them were recorded by Mikey Young in a single take and seem propelled by a certain anxiety (which also is reflected in some of the song titles).  But neither brevity nor one-take rough edges prevent the songs from leaving a lasting impression.  I think the staying power is due to interesting, if cryptic, lyrics, excellent and varied guitar tones, and a strong sense of melody.  And the band seems quite tight in their performance, so perhaps they simply need fewer takes than some others.

I've given you a sampler of songs below, but I encourage you to visit the Bandcamp link below if you like the tracks here, and try the whole thing.   This album hit quietly, but at some point the noise will give a wide audience.  You might as well get on the wave early.

The GBV strain is strong in this one --

The title of the album comes from the opening line of this song.

"Hindsight" was previously released as a single --

The History of Hygiene is out now on Chapter Music.  It is available in CD or LP formats from the label, or digital download at the Bandcamp link below.

Bandcamp for album
Chapter Music

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