Bright lights, big band

The Bay State Turn This City On
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 25, 2008


Let’s Turn This City On | Released by the Bay State | October 1 | Hear them on’s “Gunz Show” | September 28 at 8 pm
It’s been a little while since I’ve fallen this hard for a band. The Bay State, born and nurtured at UMaine-Machias of all places, are right in my personal wheelhouse: smart lyrics, huge choruses, plenty of guitar hooks, and, maybe best of all, they edge outside your standard instrumentation by featuring a viola, and wind up sounding just like and totally different from your standard radio-ready indie-rock band (they even have a gal bass player, Susanne Gerry).

On their sophomore album, Let’s Turn This City On, recorded with producer Paul Leavitt (Dashboard Confessional), they evince an immediacy and spark that manage to turn each of their songs into a mini epic. They fuel this idea, too, with sampled intros and outros and a narrative songwriting technique that might remind you of the fire and brimstone of Natural Born Killers or the Arcade Fire’s Funeral (or maybe Spouse, who featured a tune called “The Bay State” on their last album, which I think is unrelated). This can seem a bit like a conceit at times, but as you let yourself get charged by their energy, you begin to forgive them just about anything.

Sure, “1 If By Land” opens with a two-note bounce and bass thrum almost exactly ripped from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but, hey, it’s gone in eight seconds and these guys are so young they may have never heard that song. And in some ways this band is a Journey for the 21st century, just as in love with love songs and broken promises, and perfect for a big party throwdown. “You go back to bed,” sings frontman Tom Tash, “I’ll be in the shower/Washing off signs of realizations/We were born for life’s little complications.” See, Journey would be washing off cheap perfume. Who even wears perfume anymore? We wear irony almost exclusively these days. It’s the scent of choice. I mean, how do we get so quickly to the idea, that “I think I’m wishing on stars that have already burned out/But so have I/And you’re not far behind”?

Maybe it’s the new idea that everyone could be, or maybe is, a celebrity. In “Streetlights,” the most subdued of the six songs here, with just the acoustic guitar and Tash on the lead in the open, then a viola pairing from Evan James, we get a take on being a Hills character that also manages to reference Men Without Hats in more ways than one (“Johnny and Jenny had a crazy dream/To see their faces on a movie screen”). Tash holds notes for what seem like minutes as he builds into the second verse with Drew Hooke’s cymbal-heavy drums: “I want to see the city lights spelling out our names.” By the time we reach the soaring finish, with a heart-racing classical viola breakdown, you’re as absorbed in the song as the protagonists are in themselves.

“For the first time, I know it’s a dream/I saw the two of us smiling on the movie screen/As we sat and watched ourselves.” See, it’s impossible they’d be happy.

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