(Copper Mouth Records)
In 1991, Spin notably flew in the face of conventional wisdom when they named Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque as their album of the year, over perhaps the most culturally impactful album of the entire decade, Nirvana’s Nevermind. The decision was met with confusion: Nevermind was the sound of the future, the catalyst for massive overhaul in the landscape of popular music. Bandwagonesque? Sure, it was a great record, but it certainly didn’t set the musical world ablaze. We’re talking about a 27 year old album that peaked at #137 and to this day has yet to receive a gold certification being named as the best of the entire year by one of the biggest music publications of the time, over Neverfuckingmind by Nirfuckingvana. Bandwagonesque was affectionately referred to as Big Star’s 4th by the press of the time, which is something of an implicative double-edged sword.
What does this all have to do with Curling’s Definitely Band? Well, if Bandwagoneque is 4th, you can call Definitely Band Big Star’s 5th (alongside being so much more), and what Spin said about Bandwagonesque for 1991 applies to Definitely Band for 2018: this is the best album of its year.
If you’re to believe all things come in cycles and Bandwagonesque is the reincarnation of the mostly straight-forward #1 Record, then Definitely Band would most closely resemble Radio City: adventurous and quirk-riddled, simultaneously half-broken and flawless. Keyboards are warped to sound nearly like flutes (“Flutter”), perfect pop songs dissipate halfway through their life cycles and re-emerge as saxophone solos lightly decorated with twinkling guitar notes (“Bloom”), and “Four” (only “Four”) is sung entirely in Japanese for no real discernible reason aside from the band feeling like it.
This could all wind up sounding unfocused, and on a surface level it may seem that way, but that’s the point. Definitely Band is a melting pot of influences and a celebration of every great pop band of the past fifty plus years. Big Star might be the most immediately apparent, but while Bernie Gelman’s vocal tone and delivery in particular are frequently dead-ringers for Chilton’s own sweet, evocative croon (check “Pleasure”‘s downtrodden, echo chamber acoustic open and give yourself goosebumps as you attempt to rationalize that he has not been taken over by the departed) and they possess an equally brilliant sense of melody, Curling pick ingredients from the creative gardens of The Beach Boys (reverb, baroque instrumentation, heart-swelling melancholy), My Bloody Valentine (hushed, oft-obscured vocals buried under walls of sugary guitar fuzz), Television (complex Verlaine-esque riffs, rhythms, and structures), and many more to create a distinctive cocktail potent enough to knock you flat. Definitely Band sounds like everything before it and nothing before it, all at once.
Definitely Band is also very much anachronistic. The entire album was mixed and mastered in mono, an unorthodox choice ever since the early ’70s (even Big Star’s catalog only features one song in mono: Radio City‘s “O My Soul”), which aids in evoking a nostalgic warmth that gives it the feel of a record from that period (though it would be artistically impossible back then). Nostalgia is a huge thematic force throughout the album, both musically and lyrically. While the tones, effects, and compositions show a clear appreciation for music’s history, the lyrics also seem to focus on the idea of achieving enlightenment and self-actualization through observation of the past, and using that knowledge to build something new. Curling never truly pine for days gone by, but deeply understand their role in the formation of the days to come. It all matches up exceedingly well.
To a power pop fan in the 2010s, Definitely Band feels like everything, because it manages to be everything within the span of 34 minutes. The past, the present, the future. New, fresh vegetation given vibrant life by the soil of the dead. Persistently idiosyncratic without ever sacrificing an ounce of emotional resonance or melodic infectiousness. Pop rock’s to-date ‘final form’. Is this the sound of the future? It should be. Turn your 1991 Spin quizzical faces this way:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Definitely Band
Favorite tracks: (All of them but especially) “Radio King”, “Flutter”, “Bloom”, “Mallow”
You can purchase Curling’s Definitely Band here.