Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Face Time

Sissy Face
The Parlor North Loop, 5/4

Having given their previous incarnation Consider Me Spilled a right panning that may or may not have led directly to their singer quitting, I feel a little responsible for the fate of the remaining New Romantics of Sissy Face. I went out to their show last night with a rare feeling of restraint: if they sounded good in their new configuration, I would say so. Otherwise I just wouldn't write anything about them at all. I'm not somebody who often feels compelled to self-censor, but generally I have a policy of not writing about a band a second time unless they've given me reason to reconsider my initial opinion.

I had a good feeling about Sissy Face (even though their new name makes me cringe). The trouble with their first recordings was that they drew too heavily from a single source, rather amplifying their unlikable qualities and not giving the players breathing space to create their own styles. They've chosen an elegantly simple way of retreating from the hand-wringing white-guy solipsism that used to overwhelm them -- they've brought in a lady singer. This choice gives the band a different personality by default, but their new vocalist also has a cool, slow delivery that shifts the band's emphasis downward from the head to the hips. Partly as a natural reaction to the singer and partly due to the drummer, guitarist, and bassist's increased connection, they're much more of a dance band than before. I'd like to see them go even further that way. Their songs when the drums play busy and divided and the bass and guitar bisect the angles are 100% better than their inert ballads.

They're very young and it takes a generous ear to project what they could be once they get the reps in to sound tight (the singer is not at all ready to play guitar on stage, but she shouldn't stop practicing) but they have some intriguing pieces. Their guitar parts are composed, as a rule, with no lazy strumming and multiple distinctive patterns in each song. When they change parts within a song, it's obvious and often surprising because of the well-thought-out guitar foundations. The bass player is skilled and in possession of an excellent ear. The drums are at their best when they pick a weird fast groove and lock into it, but further practice should raise the interaction level between three pretty good players.

Until they've finished establishing an identity of their own, Sissy Face should absolutely avoid Smiths covers. It was nice to hear their singer enunciating clearly and in time, qualities that were lacking in their unfinished originals, but their "This Charming Man" only served to make their remaining songs sound less vital and unique. If completed and performed with confidence, I think they have the elements they need to write memorable songs. Portishead combined with the Stone Roses? No way that's not going to be cool, right?

They're on their way to becoming a good band, which wasn't the case before (no slight to their former singer, who's a friend and a good musician -- it simply wasn't the right fit). That makes me happy. I want everybody who's in a band to get better, and I want everybody who isn't in a band to start one.

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