Considering that a great deal of indie rock musicians choose to pursue indie rock ethos and conventions because they find most popular music uninspiring, it’s not entirely surprising that a great deal of these musicians eschew simple pop songwriting as a rule. Obviously, that’s their right, and that attitude has yielded some of the indie rock community’s most revered works, but one might reasonably suspect that this mindset originated as a rather specious conflation: “I don’t like what’s on the radio. Conventional pop music is on the radio. I don’t like conventional pop music.” It’s your most basic of syllogisms.
Of course, this isn’t really much of an issue, but every once in a while, musicians who might have natural pop inclinations feel the urge to needlessly “weird up” their songs in order to attain that always nebulous concept known as indie rock credibility. Take the opening track of Future Clouds & Radar’s second album, Peoria. “The Epcot View” is as charming an opener as you can ask for, with an easy, summery melody well complimented by singer Robert Harrison’s wry lyrics (the similarities in vocals between Harrison and Robert Pollard certainly do not hurt). A couple of verses and choruses breeze by followed by a bridge that supplies the song’s best hook and it’s at this point, Harrison and co. choose this most inopportune time to get a little experimental. What follows is fifteen seconds of aimless noodling, a pointless jammy diversion supplemented with a distractingly bad delay effect on the drum kit. It’s awkward and forced and, at the risk of being melodramatic, I can’t stress enough what a detrimental affect this unnecessary segment has on the song. The band returns to the more pleasant elements of “The Epcot View” for one more verse and chorus but, suffice to say, the damage is done.
There are other examples of this tendency on Peoria, but fortunately for Future Clouds & Radar, the other songs fare a little better for it. “The Mortal’s” languid and occasionally spooky waltz is interrupted by an extended detour into clattering drums and noisy synths, but given the ghostly nature of the song, the interlude actually serves as a welcome and unexpected redirection. The last three minutes of “Mummified” is a hodgepodge of feedback and sloppy piano, which segues nicely out of the previous four minutes of melancholy Beach Boys-indebted pop harmonies.
Actually, Future Clouds & Radar manage to pull out a few decent tricks on Peoria. The first listen suggests an innocuous pop album, written by a band too insecure about their readily apparent love of the Beatles to avoid overdressing their songs with unnecessarily complicated breakdowns, but Peoria’s melodies subtly insinuate themselves, leaving them lingering in your head a lot longer than you might expect them to. In fact, it’s when Future Clouds & Radar don’t get too fussy with their songs that they are most notably successful. “Old Edmund Ruffin” is the band at their uncomplicated best: a simple, elegant melody backed by simple, elegant guitars and strings. They may stray from this, admittedly basic, formula from time to time, but Future Clouds & Radar provide enough moments like it to make Peoria a winning endeavor.
Oh, and bonus points for the Blur homage, “Eighteen Months.” At least, I have to assume it was a homage.