Headphones Please: The Pear Traps' New Garage Pop EP
I forget how good it feels to listen with headphones. I don’t mean ear buds, I’m talking about the muffs that strap on like a helmet, the donut-sized bear paws for your skull walls. Just a few seconds into the initial strums of The Pear Traps' self titled EP, I knew it’d be worth it. I’m digging mine out of the drawer right now (the one drawer where everything worth keeping gets forgotten for a while), with their curly q telephone cord and their padded head strap, and I’m putting on the Traps .
I was trying to think what it was that made The Pear Traps' sound so “classic” to me. Maybe it’s the Paul Westerberg nose or the Waterloo Sunset sublime bouquet I get on a second swish. Shake ‘em around: the beguiling keys complementing Cure-ish dulcet guitar riffs give these tunes legs. But they still got teeth. There's the subtle growl of the rhythm guitar and the steady late-eighties style folky snare work of Billy Ritter. (Their FB page lists only their first names un-capitalized, perhaps a clever wink to their unostentatious style.)
The Pear Traps’ rambling warm chorus sound reminds me of the color washes of Psychedelic Furs, humming into takeoff after the song has already seduced you, or Lou Reed’s casual vocal delivery.
Lyrically, I was hooked by the brilliant and simple outro to Honestly where the word is chanted as a question over and over again. There’s a soundtrack quality here that makes me want to get on a plane back home and stare out a window while I sort some things out.
With transistor radio vox buried in the mix of fat, mellow guitar and key combo, these unassuming songs don’t fight for headspace. Many bands will actually mix their songs to sound best on tiny lap top speakers, but not PT, who has opted for rich choral bass and mids. This could be why many listeners might overlook the lyrical style and lithe instrumental licks nipping from just beneath the surface.
Why headphones? Maybe it’s that PT doesn’t try to force maximum harmonics on the screech end of the spectrum or force twee vocals to rattle the casing of a netbook. (Though there are some interesting high-end harmonics in the vox and instrumentation as each player has a unique, developed tone.) Nuance and variety, particularly in Josh Lockwoods’s guitar and Stephen Simkos’s keys, reveal themselves on re-listens, it’s those legs I was talking about, more punch than initial expectations might suspect.
While the tone of the vox, guitars, keys, drums … well, each element individually and together harkens to the late eighties slash early nineties underground rock/pop sound (bands like Replacements, Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division, then later Vulgar Boatmen and Ocean Blue), I think these dudes differentiate themselves by the same aspect, going for meatier Chicago mids rather than playing with the glistening arch-top highs that eventually led to R.E.M. revolutionizing the sound .
This is a Chicago band that reflects the unpretentious Midwest warmth as well as the classic strength of Second City rock. It’s not hard to get close to these tunes, to listen to them how you want to since they’re simple and rich, yet still complex and subtle enough to soundtrack different emotions, a bridge between moods. Yeah, they sound good on the weency laptop speaks, but for the tone, to get all the juice out, try 'em close, pick 'em up and get some fruit in your ears.
Stream the album on bandcamp: http://thepeartraps.bandcamp.com/track/honestly
Chicago readers: See them at the release show at Cole’s on May 27th, 2011.
More fandagled music ramblings from number one here.
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