Indie-rock quartet Pretty & Nice might not live up to their moniker, but they're a striking band nonetheless. For the last couple of years, they've mined the depths of post-punk, sorting through several decades of skittish guitar rock. Now they've resurfaced with Pink & Blue, their remarkable full-length debut.
Unlike many of their image-obsessed peers, P&N actually write interesting songs. Gang of Four and The Jam are obvious reference points, but the group is also versed in surf-rock, power-pop and electro. I'm frankly burned out on "angular guitars" and cheeky self-awareness. Yet somehow this disc works, and brilliantly.
"Fortress" kicks things off with stabbing chords and a falsetto vocal melody. It's hardly the best song on the record, but it's got a certain frolicsome charm.
"Lazy Bumblebee" is a bizarre pop wonder, full of quirky tension and smug assurance. "I don't wanna be so sad / I just wanna lay around in bed and think about nothing," P&N sing in what can only be described as a gay Cockney accent. If Morrissey and Dick Van Dyke's chimneysweep started a band, it'd likely sound like this.
An aside: My promo copy of Pink & Blue came sheathed in an old computer floppy disc. I found the package both pretty and nice.
Back to the music. "Stop/Start" pits tribal drums against minimalist riffs in full-out tug-of-war. The song's coda features agitated guitars and bass that are subsequently swallowed in a chasm of feedback. Curiously, it's all rather catchy.
"Grammaphone" takes a page out of the Dischord Records playbook. The song's slightly distorted vocals are buried in instrumental jitter that doesn't let up until the thrashing finale.
P&N indulge in quirky electro fantasies on "Speedboats." Besides the digitally warped percussion, the tune features my favorite guitar work on the album. Slashing riffs and icy arpeggios shore up vocals about interpersonal tension: "She'd love to see him bleed / He'd love to see her plead / He'd love to fill her need / But there are too many mouths to feed," they chirp.
Herky-jerky jangle is the chief concern of "Busy Bees," while "Georgia Belle," with its baroque melodies and jazzy drum fills, sounds like a lost Zombies cut.
Album closer "Sea Legs" features foamy noises, jagged chords and a rowdy, wordless chant. It's a heave-worthy combo that's perfectly evocative of the title.
It's great to hear such a distinctly original Burlington band capture their sound on record. They're pretty fun live, too; catch them at Big Heavy World headquarters on College Street in Burlington on Sunday, October 15.