BOAT - Dress Like Your Idols
BOAT! Sorry, I didn't mean to yell. Well, actually, why not? This Seattle band has been kicking around on the far margins of the indie pop realm for five years now, during which time they've recorded four albums, all to little fanfare. Then again, it's possible that they've already blown their chance for wider recognition and that a little bit of fanfare is all the guys in BOAT are ever gonna get. After all, Pitchfork keeps ranking the band's albums with tantalizing mid-sevens, but this hasn't resulted in a boost to the next level.
One reason is that on previous records, BOAT simply didn't deserve those darn good marks. It's not that there wasn't anything to like about the music. The band's central figure, singer and songwriter David Crane, knows a good hook and he pens lyrics that are funny, smart, and self-deprecating. Beyond that, though, the musicianship came across as a bit amateurish. For some indie music styles, this can be endearing – or, at least, adequate – but BOAT have always presented as a band whose ambitions exceeded their abilities and means. Their attempts at power pop dynamics were flattened by chintzy recordings, while their stabs at cool, dramatic pauses were a little mushy in the timing department. Some music simply requires more rehearsals and a good engineer.
Well, good news. Dress Like Your Idols delivers on both counts. Or maybe BOAT just got better at using Pro Tools and "fixed it in the mix," as they say. Whatever the means, they are justified by the end result: the band's best album yet. It also boasts their best cover art to date. Here, BOAT wear their influences on their record jacket. Check out the collage of crude reproductions of covers from Pavement, The Velvet Underground, Built to Spill, Elliott Smith, and, most curiously, Pearl Jam. That's some good, angsty, artsy stuff there.
What we need to keep in mind here, however, is that one's idols are not necessarily also one's influences. It's also possible that BOAT have no idea how cute and catchy their songs are. At their toughest, the band sound like middle period Superchunk (as on Dress Like Your Idols opener "Changing of the Guard"). Far more often, though, BOAT provide a slightly fuzzier and more straightforward alternative to another Northwest band, The New Pornographers. But, okay, sure: Built to Spill, especially in their poppiest moments (say, "Time Trap"), also surface on these songs. Dress Like Your Idols' terrific "King Kong" could be the result of a one-night stand between the two bands just cited.
But there's no way that The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion can be found anywhere on this album. "Classically Trained," for instance, is Modest Mouse at their most tuneful and easy-going. Meanwhile, "Kinda Scared of Love Affairs" is way jauntier and more twee-leaning than anything the bands' pictured idols ever laid to tape. Based on the song title "Frank Black Says," one could imagine a discarded drawing of Doolittle that didn't make the cut for Dress Like Your Idols cover art, but that still doesn't mean you should expect to hear a strong Pixies influence on that song, or on the album as a whole.
That's all right, though. Sonic Youth say you should "Kill Yr Idols." Instead, BOAT have successfully funneled and synthesized the ideas of their idols into their own sound. The even better news is that they have done so with a measure of musical expertise that exceeds the band's previous, sloppy efforts. Also, Dress Like Your Idols isn't impeded by the dodgy recording quality that marred the group's prior works. Simply, the music sounds good and is played well. Based on the strengths of this album, BOAT are ready to be noticed by a wider audience and taken seriously. Let's just hope that everyone who tuned in before will give the band a fourth chance.
Recommended Tracks: "King Kong," "Classically Trained," and "Kinda Scared of Love Affairs"