California Wives – [Album]

Saturday, 21 July 2012

From the moment “Blood Red Youth” eases its way in to open Art History – California Wives' debut album – some listeners will just have a flood of images come rushing at them all at once: John Hughes movie posters, sequences out of Christian Slater movies, scenes from Cure music videos circa 1992, Replacements music videos released between 1985 and 1990 and more. Listeners will be surprised at how vividly and vibrantly those images come rushing back, and the storm will be so thick that they'll be prompted to wonder where they could have come from. The answer is simple – from the very first note on their very first record, this Chicago-based band has tapped into a timeless quality of teenage heart which seems to vibrate with possibility, but isn't ready to burst quite yet. It's simmering and coming close – it's on the cusp. It's achin' to be, but it isn't there quite yet; but the possibilities are boundless. That possibility combined with the hopeful whisper of singer/keyboardist/guitarist Jayson Kramer is the first, fisherman's gaffe-sized hook of Art History and the appeal it holds is universal; those in their teens will feel like they might have just found something which speaks to how they've started feeling recently but the music they used to love just doesn't reach, and those who have a few years more than that (say, in their thirties?) will be able to enjoy it because it reminds them of the alt-rock that was on the radio when they were in high school. Bridges like that are rare, but that feels like where California Wives are standing here in “Blood Red Youth.”

But so what right? Saying that Art History opens with a vital new take on a very important idea is one thing but, even better, it doesn't just stall out after that first change – it keeps slithering and titillating every ear it touches along its course. Songs like “Marianne,” “The Fisher King,” “Los Angeles” and “Purple” all measure up to the bar that “Blood Red Youth” sets and faithfully carries on the traditions set by Eighties/Nineties college rock beautifully. The vibes never falter as the rhythm section of Dan Zima and Joe O'Connor pin down a center as rock solid and reliable as any in new wave, indie or alt-rock, but the secret weapon (and the perfect counterpoints to everything else that happens on Art History) are Kramer's vocals and the lead guitar figures of Graham Masell. Throughout the album, that dynamic duo sprays out stripes of day-glo, pastel and plaid in a perfectly fluid spectrum and really holds the attention of listeners easily. Every time a song seems to need saving from the fashionable ennui put down by Kramer's breathless, sighing vocal, Masell swoops in with a perfectly appointed blast of lead guitar to pick up spirits, and before it goes too far, the singer tempers the guitar to keep it from being to much of a work-out. That is the sort of give-and-take dynamic which has really been absent from guitar-centered music (punk, pop, metal, rock, alternative, whatever) over the last twelve years, and that it comes together so easily here and feels so natural feels incredibly gratifying as the album plays through; here these California Wives just seem to make the whole idea of rock music work again fresh and new without trying to be ambitious about it or strike any kind of statuesque pose.

…All of which begs the question of what might happen next for this band. As good as it is, Art History doesn't feel like the kind of record which starts a wildfire movement, but there are definitely a few sparks struck toward that end here and that is exciting. With the right producer along for their next release, California Wives may find themselves being regarded as the next saviors of rock n' roll; the raw talent is very clearly here on Art History, all they need now is to refine it. If they do that, they'll be ready to take a whole new class of rockers to school.



California Wives –
"Marianne" – Art History
California Wives – "Purple" – Art History


Art History will be released via Vagrant Records on September 4, 2012. It is not yet available for pre-order on Amazon.

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