CD Review: Army Navy's Debut Album

By Peter Kimmich 2008-10-21 00:57:31
When most people buy an album, the thought of its production is pretty far from their minds. Since a main function of studio production is to shelter the listener from the background grit that might ruin the music’s spell, music listeners don’t really notice the process a band goes through in making a studio recording.

So it is with Army Navy’s self-titled debut album, released October 14 by the band’s own label. On the surface, it’s a beautiful cross-section of the band’s material, old and new. It does a good job showcasing their signature vintage guitar growl, infectious pop melodies and Justin Kennedy’s spot-on, tight-throated vocals. The bigger picture, though, is available to those lucky enough to have heard older recordings, giving them a basis to compare how far this band has come.

In some of the go-to tracks like “Dark as Days” and “Snakes of Hawaii,” which have been on every EP I have seen thus far, the fatigue of re-recording and re-mixing is starting to show in the guitar and vocals, which have just a twinge of “I’ve done this before” deliberateness – though the performance is sharp enough that a first-time listener would be hard-pressed to notice. The tiresome process can be seen again in “Saints,” which was re-recorded almost identically to the older one, with the exception of new drumming.

However, this release has also given Army Navy some newer battleships for their musical fleet. “My Thin Sides,” “Slight of Hand” and “Right Back Where We Started From” expose some glorious songwriting chops, giving first-time listeners a reason to stay interested and surprising longer-bearded listeners with some previously unheard song-smithing skills.

Near the top of the set is “My Thin Sides,” a quick, frantic number that comes more from a Libertines / Dirty Pretty Things angle than most of the band’s previous material. Its Iggy-Pop bassline and spastic solo, which I’m told was recorded in one take by a wasted Louie (Schultz, Guitar) makes it a good backing track for a happy London bar brawl. A couple slots down is “Slight of Hand,” a relaxed, melodic tune with a gripping chorus that demonstrates the joyful melancholy this band can create. This sound, like the Smiths à la indie rock, is a huge part of Army Navy’s appeal, and may be what got this track into Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the Michael Cera film due out in the fall.

One interesting track is “Pocket Boys,” a breezy piece of strumming that hints of sailing ships and ocean shimmer, creating a peaceful soundscape that contradicts its blood-and booze-soaked lyrical content. This number is followed by the playful, manic energy of “Jail is Fine,” whose lead riff teases like a joker offering another shot of rum. This vibe is reinstated in the album’s sunny, celebratory final track, whose classic ‘60s backup vocals and careless lyrics nearly escape the darkness of vaguely scary love-lines like “and if you get hurt by the little things I say, I can put a smile back on your face.” Overall, this is an awesome collection by a band that grows more amazing by the note. Any rock fan who takes pride in knowing up-and-coming material would be wise to invest in this little disc.
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