Early on in the sixth season of The X-Files, there is a two-episode series called “Dreamland.” Its title, of course, taken from the nickname for the top-secret Air Force facility Area 51. In the first episode, Mulder is driving around Area 51 with his partner Scully when they are stopped by a car full of proverbial men in black. At one point, a kind of imperceptible wave passes through the air, and Mulder involuntarily switches bodies with one of the men. They were actually lucky: later on, the wave passes through a couple who are making out in the desert outside the base, and the two become physically melded into one another.
That same invisible wave seems to pass through the first seconds of “I Don’t Mind”, Brief Spirit’s opening statement, melting together an old aerobic workout video cassette and a copy of Christopher Cross’ 1979 hit “Sailing”, with results much more green than grotesque. The force of nostalgia is strong with Keeps. In their dealings with the music press to date, duo Robbie Jackson and Gusti Escalante have yet to cite many, if any, major influences that didn’t get their start in at least the 1980s if not long before.
The two young Nashville-based musicians found each other in college, and the bands they bonded over are some of the same bands college students have been bonding over since Jackson and Escalante were born: the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Go-Betweens, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Television. They’ve previously said that Yo La Tengo and Spiritualized were the two biggest influences on Brief Spirit – though to what degree, and which specific period of those decade-spanning artists in particular, could become subject to light debate among the album’s beholders.
Unique regional styles and the influence of geography on rock music are no longer the kind of factors they were in the eras that Escalante and Jackson revere. Nonetheless, in a way not unlike the literary tradition of an outsider explaining a culture to its own people, Keeps’ vantage point from the hills outside the capital of country music may be part of what gives their polaroid indie rock enough unique perspective to stake its own territory adjacent to, but apart from, sonic peers such as Real Estate and their suburban New Jersey. Keeps demonstrate a penchant for chill on songs like recent single “Everyday”, but they can also let go of that chill in grand fashion, like they do halfway through the album’s central track, “Let it Fall (Keeping Time)”. If there’s any single moment on Brief Spirit that demarcates Keeps from the post-chillwave legion, it is Escalante’s exultant and earned “Whoo!” in the song’s ending rave-up.
Building on that momentum, “Silent Eyes” is driving Brit-rock big enough to sit next to Wish. On this midway arch they overcome any limitations of self-producing with songwriting and energy that outweigh process. That goes for “Breath” as well, which comes in with a riff and stiff bounce like something off an early U2 record, though without the self-seriousness. At nearly seven minutes long, on the surface “I’ve Been Scared” seems like it should be the epic blow-out, and perhaps it is to an extent, but its pace is deceptive, its finale lean.
One of the greater risks in this kind of indie rock in this decade is not taking enough risks, even subtle ones, that will distinguish a band amid so many working in a genre built upon a limited past. Simple pleasures can be some of the most difficult to get right. Keeps are one of those bands bestowed with a natural knack for landing on the right note who make it sound easy.