By Ryan Smith
Regular readers might have put together that I stand strongly opposed to meathead rock bands, so-called ‘revivalists’ who hark AC/DC and Led Zep tunes that are conducive to beer-swilling and contribute little to the future of music as an art form. Rock ‘n’ Roll might not be dead, but it is certainly dying. Check out the top 40 for heaven’s sake! I think that if we hope to save it at all, we have to make it an art form again. The only way to do this, I believe, is to revisit the last time it was used in such a way: the late seventies/early eighties. In effect, we have to do what the meatheads are doing and revisit the past, but instead of copping the top 40 from thirty years ago, we have to learn to adapt our own top 40, or resulting underground, into the mix.
This brings me to the subject at hand, sorry for the slight tangent. Earlier this year, a band called Stereo Off released an EP that sums up almost perfectly what rock bands should be doing this day and age. The five piece, NYC-based Stereo Off is for the most part an above-average, modern, indie rock band, but there are a few fantastic twists that put them head and shoulders above a lot of their peers.
Founded in 2012, Stereo Off have put together a line-up of musicians from different walks and have pounded out a musical style that incorporates styles from the past three decades into a very modern sound. The debut EP Stereo Off NY EP5 more than effectively displays the band’s impressive abilities. While there’s definitely some nineties-style riffing on the record (a lot of indie bands draw from this decade, it seems), it impresses me the most that there is a lot of material that echoes the days of such artistic institutions as Tears for Fears, New Order, The Cure, The Pet Shop Boys, and even Blondie.
The band’s brand new single, “Bullet Time,” was the first thing I heard from the band. It plays out, at first, like a very interesting minimalist indie rock tune, but it gets real just before the first minute is up and the smooth, gliding, and quite engaging synth hook takes over. The second verse mixes it up a bit, injecting a little synth into the background. The synth hook returns beneath additional keyboards, charged rhythm guitars, and a shoegaze-style vocal chorus that seems to blend in with the music to delightful effect. An acidic, electronics-laced bridge provides a vehicle for vocals that remind me strongly of the darkwave greats of the eighties. The low key chorus returns to finish the tune. A really neat tune and a fantastic single, “Bullet Time” is my favourite on the record.
Another standout is “The Thrill” which, with its simplistic and catchy arrangement, cute eighties keyboard sound, dreamy basswork, and well-produced, plaintive vocals, appeals to the Cure fan in me. The electronic, post-disco awesome of “Effectual” is also of note, with a unique vocal approach in the verses and an insanely catchy chorus. The first track on the EP, “Photographs,” demonstrates the band’s wonderful ability to construct simple hooks that draw your ass in and don’t let go! The lead riff is catchy enough and cool when paired with vocals that sound slightly inspired by INXS, but I really like the post-chorus guitar hook, which demands to be part of the lyrics as you hum along to it. “MI6,” the album’s closer, is an odd bit of ass kickery. It sort of reminds me of Mudhoney and includes a bloody awesome early seventies, Tony Kaye-style organ solo! WTF?!
As you can see, the comparisons to other artists throughout art-rock’s sweet and expressive history abound, but I assure you this is no slight against the band. Stereo Off have harnessed each of these sounds into one all-unifying sound to call their own. This EP is definitely worth picking up, I’ve had it on repeat for days. With another EP due out later this year, Stereo Off are definitely working hard to share their art with the world and I think they are more than deserving of the praise they will surely receive!
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.