The Retrospective

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Generationals debut album Con Law is delicious pop music

February 19th, 2010 by

Photo Courtesy of Generationals

What’s so great about novelty? Sure, it’s exciting to encounter something that seems alien and challenging. There’s an undeniable sense of satisfaction that arises from discovering those little bits of culture that jolt their respective mediums forward. Just as crucially, it’s exciting to feel like you’re being jolted as well. But at the end of the day, most new mutations in the pop culture gene pool fade away with little fanfare.

Photo Courtesy of Generationals

While the Kid A’s of the world may have epochal significance, the overwhelming majority of records aspire to humbler goals. As discerning listeners, we tend to prioritize the search for the transcendent over the appreciation of skilled craftsmanship. I’m not suggesting you should delete Animal Collective from your iPod to make room for Matchbox 20. We should, however, remember to bask in the warmth of familiarity every once in awhile.

I can’t think of a better place to start this mission than Con Law, the debut album by Generationals. Like most of their labelmates on Park the Van Records, Generationals make pop music. Unhyphenated pop music. You won’t find hints of glo-fi, no-wave, or post-anything on this record. Just 10 lovingly recorded analog tracks, without a hint of pretension.

This isn’t time capsule music. Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, the core duo of Generationals, haven’t put up blinders to the last 4 decades of popular music. Instead they blend nostalgia with contemporary flourishes to create tracks that sound comfortingly familiar without reeking of mothballs. On the early highlight “Angry Charlie,” undistorted guitar chords and a wailing electric organ underscore the attention-grabbing vocals. Before long, a punchy snare and a Strokes-y guitar line join the party, transforming the song into, well, a party. Inevitable toe tapping ensues.

Throughout the album, producer Daniel Black places the vocals at the top of mix. Fortunately, Joyner and Widmer reward Black’s faith with a compelling blend of harmonies, falsetto, and enough “ooo’s” to bring a smiley smile to Brian Wilson’s face. By recording on a 24-track, 2-inch tape machine, tracks like “When They Fight, They Fight” feature a sunny, inviting vocal tone, otherwise impossible to capture with digital recording. Without overcrowding the mix, embellishments like a twinkling synth line or blaring trumpet sneak in from time to time, but they never threaten to draw the listener’s attention away from the vocals.

Despite the undeniable nostalgia that colors much of Con Law, Generationals draw on the minimalist palette of thoroughly modern bands like Spoon on “Bobby Beale” and “Nobody Could Change Your Mind.” On the latter track, a blindingly bright brass intro cedes to a spare vocal and bass arrangement, right before it threatens to wear out its welcome. Just as the listener grows accustomed to this sparseness, the brass barges back into the song. Despite the structural simplicity of the songs, Generationals still inject a playful dynamism into most of the tracks.

When Con Law was released in 2009, it failed to make a splash (Pitchfork didn’t even bother to review the album). This is particularly puzzling in light of the success of critical darlings Girls, a group that similarly fetishizes classic, analog pop. I, for one, prefer the crisp, economical approach of Generationals over the scuzzy, loose approach of Girls. In either case, Con Law is worth seeking out for anyone in need of a simple reminder: novelty is overrated.

Stream the entire record now here

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