FUZZY AS A CRUTCH? Or are Good Kids Sprouting Horns just making you uncomfortable?
We have a natural inclination toward harmony. We look for patterns and symmetry and create narratives out of coincidences. Yet there is also something delicious about the outlier, the clashing of what's expected and what's real, that gets you excited about the possibilities of something new and different.
With Good Kids Sprouting Horns drummer Ryan Higgins's quick, pushing beat, Jessamy Luthin's purposely retro keyboards, and frontman Anthony Bitetti's grimy and tarred vocals, there is ample opportunity for this kind of clash: slow floating over fast, clean pulsing through dirty, sprightly dancing with lead-footed. The result on the band's second full-length, We Are Animals, is a lot to listen for. What they do best is surprise you with something you basically knew was coming, which has to be a good thing.
It doesn't quite work out because of a one-song anomaly, but it's just about true that every one of the 10 songs here is shorter than the one before it, and Good Kids seem to get more pointed and crisp as the album progresses. "Animal" opens things with just bass and a buzz, a hum, a hiss, whatever it is that is not "clean." This album is all kinds of dirty, especially in the guitar tones, like the one that's joined by an organ-flavored keyboard, and Bitetti's drawl: "I know you that you are the only one to blame/Because I am an animal, but you made me this way."
Here his voice is cracking, at the breaking point, and full of the believability that helps his songwriting succeed so well. I've written before that he has a lot of Wes Hartley in his delivery, but songs like "Oversized Indians" and "Black River" remind strongly of the Weakerthans' John Samson, or at least of his ability to sound winsome and punk at the same time. On the former, Bitteti adopts Jeff Tweedy's cadence from Wilco's "I'll Fight," before backing vocals muddy and augment. On the latter, a blaring keyboard (almost a bagpipe sound) is paired with a plinking and resonating banjo until Bitetti brings in a nice melody and some of his better lines: "I'm throwing all your letters in the fire/and your words keep softening the flame . . . The smoke carries your voice out through the chimney/But it found its way back through the windowpane/To hate me again."
Recorded "in a small cottage in Orono," there are parts of his album that are just as rough as the Good Kids debut. Ron Harrity's mastering job is a good one, though. This album virtually needs to be held together with duct tape, and he manages to take the often-sibilant vocals and very immediate drums and make them work with the sweetness of the keyboards and the warmish guitar wash. Still, there is a lot of high-end and it's a little harsh at the higher volumes. This is not an album I recommend absolutely cranking. It's kind of caustic. The word "cacophonous" came to mind more than once.