Hot Hot Heat
The year's not even half over, and already 2005 is shaping up to be the Year of 1982. So far, the wildly predominant alt-rock trend has been post-punk nostalgia.
Vancouver's Hot Hot Heat may not be the trend's top-tier band, but they at least have some seniority: They released their endearing debut, Make Up the Breakdown, back in 2002, almost three years before upstarts like the Killers even bought their copies of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Elevator, Hot Hot Heat's blandly titled major-label debut, mutes the fun of their debut only a little as the quartet develop a more guitar-based sound that's more ambitious, if less fresh. At its least imaginative ("Jingle Jangle" and "Middle of Nowhere"), Elevator is you'll-dance-to-anything pop, lacking the endearing idiosyncrasies of its predecessor. But at its best ("You Owe Me an IOU" and "Island of the Honest Man"), the album delivers all the expected hopped-up rhythms and unself-aware retro stylings, along with clever wordplay and Steve Bays' spastic vocal delivery.
Hot Hot Heat's most charming quality is their goofiness: They realize that rock-and-roll is essentially silly, especially when it's so rooted in a style that's older than they are. The band do have something to say about the West Coast hipster scene, but it seems much more important that they're having a blast saying it.
Despite albums like Elevator, the new new wave has a limited shelf life, and we all know how it will end: Like garage rock, its commercial sheen will wear off, and like grunge, the market will be oversaturated by second-rate bands that are about as dull as the phrase "post-punk nostalgia." With debuts from East Coasters the Bravery and West Coasters Louis XIV, that wave of clones is swelling -- the end is nigh.
It's completely unclear why the Bravery latched on to post-punk; except for the asymmetrical haircuts and the buckets of eyeliner, they don't seem to get much inspiration from it. Musically, they pillage the likely influences -- Disintegration-era Cure, Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order, and Rio-era Duran Duran -- but their debut ends up sounding more like Antics-era Interpol. On the album opener, "An Honest Mistake," they stumble onto a chorus much catchier than they deserve, but the 11 songs that follow sound formulaic and humdrum, devoid of any spirit or commitment even as the band piles on more keyboards. It's ultimately inoffensive, but one wonders why the Bravery are even bothering.
At least the Bravery are not as actively slimy as Louis XIV, San Diego's late arrival to the garage-rock revival. To their credit, the band pepper their '60s rock poses with glam vocals and new-wave rhythms, but their full-length debut, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, goes a long way to making beloved sources sound irritating and empty. On "Finding Out True Love Is Blind" (as on every other track), singer Jason Hill describes all the girls in the audience he'd like to screw: "Hey chocolate girl, why you lookin' like something I want?/And your little Asian friend, she can come if she wants." It's the hipster rock equivalent of Jay-Z's "Girls Girls Girls" but without any of Hova's self-awareness, lyrical skill, or simple creative joy to soften the misogyny.
Unlike the Bravery, Louis XIV at least have a reason for their rock nostalgia: They want to get laid. However, unlike Hot Hot Heat, they forget that music (and sex) doesn't have to be lewd, pointless, or obligatory. The upside is that neither the Bravery nor Louis XIV (and probably not even Hot Hot Heat) will last long enough to make much impact; the downside is that they'll be back in some other form for the next easily appropriated genre revival. -- Stephen Deusner
Grades: Hot Hot Heat: B+; The Bravery: C+; Louis XIV: D+