Polyvinyl Records, 2014
New Orleans duo Generationals are finished with and ready to run with their fourth CD, Alix. This time they decided to take a new route for this album, someone who could bring the novelty back to their work and help to shake things up. They sought out indie legend, Richard Swift, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s been a touring member of The Shins and The Black Keys and who’s produced albums for Tennis and Foxygen.
Generationals are a duo of old friends, close since high school, Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, who’ve been the force behind Generationals since 2008. They recorded their first three albums at home with their then-producer/collaborator, Daniel Black. This time Ted and Grant, along with Swift, traveled to Cottage Grove, Oregon. To the duo’s surprise, Swift didn’t take over the reins after the songs were written and the so-called “rough drafts” were made. They’d half-expected Richard Swift to take what they’d done with their new songs and re-cast them with a magic touch. Instead of working over the songs and giving them a new life, Swift heard Tad and Grant’s songs and urged them to keep the demos they’d done, relatively unchanged. As producer, Swift recorded the music, basically as written and, with little more than a bit of polishing and refining, the three had a workable, coherent album.
Generationals, for those unfamiliar with their sound, have a good ear for pleasant pop melodies and fluid, upbeat, danceable numbers. They combine smooth and silky electronics with a soulful pop vibe. In some places the songs sound not unlike Prince, with it’s energetic, kinetic mix of falsetto vocals, catchy hooks and snappy rhythm. There also seems to be a dash of the early 80s mixed in. While listening to Alix, I couldn’t help but sense I was at a nightclub, circa 1981-82, when a new sound was being forged after a decade of deep, heavy album rock and sweaty disco jams. By the early 80s, those things were being overtaken by a new “generation” of bands and singers who seemed to be crucibles of sounds into which was poured bits of influences from early-mid 60s pop, like the Supremes, Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” style as well as bits and pieces of soul and funk. The result turned into something like a new alloy of tuneage, little clips from here and there, then mixed with Tad and Grant’s own style, which, by 2013, had had five years to gel.
The song “Gold Silver Diamond” has a familiar feel to it – it sounds inspired by Sly & Robbie-produced reggae-pop and even has a little reminder of The short-lived Tom Tom Club (Talking Heads’ married couple, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz). Nonetheless, it’s a very catchy tune with a Caribbean vibe to it, a rhythm heavy, steady, song, which I believe, is their “single” for Alix. “Reviver” has a more down to earth sound, but still has that fresh, confident air of the early 80s, just updated for 2014. Another catchy song is “Charlemagne”, which has a post-wave ethereal quality which is infectious; the electronic beats hypnotize and the low-vibes on the keyboard punctuate a musique nouveau which is spread all through this. Another spark of influence I heard in “Welcome to the Fire”, for example, was Stephin Merritt, he of Magnetic Fields and the one-off project which is endlessly fascinating, Future Bible Heroes, a project done with Christopher Owen.
Believe me, Alix takes the indie listener into a new direction: instead of dour, introspective, reflective mood-music, it’s like a sunny day at the beach. -KM.