For the young and the listless, the city is more than some bland post-graduate inevitability — the place you go when you’re not already there. When Andrew Churchman graduated from high school in Manasquan, New Jersey, it was in pursuit of potential. He made a beeline for Boston, thinking the city (any city) to be a proper way to ditch the doldrums of suburbia.
(NOT) TOO MUCH INFO: There’s always something not quite right in their songs — but you’re never burdened with the details.
But like most cities, Boston has a knack for representing more than it actually presents, and sometimes the only way to find one’s niche here is by accident. Boyracer snuck the underage Churchman into their random show at the back of the Druid in Inman Square shortly after his arrival in town and he ended up meeting the Soltero gang, some dudes from Reports, the girl from the Receptionists, kids in bands. All of a sudden he was home, and not long after that, in 2003, he formed Pants Yell!, who’ll play P.A.’s Lounge next Thursday.
“A lot of people from outside the city view us as ‘Pants Yell! from Boston’ — where everyone wears scarves all the time,” Churchman tells me. “It’s the same way I romanticized Boston. That idealized view of the city is a big part of the music I write.”
We’re sitting across from the BPL in the small, gated patio of the Charlesmark Hotel, and as Churchman pops a tofu triangle, the city races behind him, the offices emptying into the subway tunnels, the sidewalks filling with girls still in their work heels. There’s something so anonymous and general about the bustle — but to Churchman, the city presents itself as a finely orchestrated symphony of details, images, utterances, names, and colors.
Pants Yell! excel at a post-grad brand of indie pop that may have roots in twee but has subbed out the spoonful of sugar for a heap of budding weltschmerz. Rounded out by the exuberant on-pointness of drummer Casey Keenan and the thoughtful bass lines of Sterling Bryant (plus, on this album, vocal help from Camille McGregor of Ponies in the Surf and horn contributions from Dave Gross and Nmperign’s Greg Kelley), each song on their December 2007 CD, Alison Statton (Soft Abuse), is meticulously tidy and effortlessly catchy. Think Go-Betweens, think Umpteens, and, for the purposes of the new record (and for the benefit of the myriad associations that come with naming an album after Alison Statton, their prim frontwoman), think the Young Marble Giants.
But like the soft punk of the Giants, the simplicity of Pants Yell!’s form often belies the moody tangles of its content. The songs show; they don’t tell. There’s always something not quite right — but you’re never burdened with the details. And though Churchman would never go as far as to describe a sunset, in “Shoreham Kent” he watches one from a rising elevator. Likewise, he’d never traffic in gossip — or even narrative, for that matter — but he generously peppers his songs with Rachels, Julies, and Ryans. Names, as he puts it, allow you to “assume there’s a story” — after all, why would someone named Susan be floating around in the æther?