Charming Our Pants Off
The Ditty Bops make vintage seem cute; Bound Stems endear with emotion; and Nada Surf waxes authentic
The Ditty Bops
This bike-riding, planet Earth-loving, female duo makes a convincing argument that a little ’ 30s and ’ 40s musical style can blend with contemporary acoustic craftsmanship. Playing to your old soul, they construct foot-tapping, finger-snapping rhythms filled out with a long list of acoustic treats, from the upright bass to the ukulele. Though the instrumentation and arrangements are richly textured and could easily draw a lot of attention, they maintain a singular purpose of complementing the tight vocal harmonies of Abby Dewald and Amanda Barrett. Their vocals interlock with a tinge of jazz while the melodies themselves are structured more like an old western standard.
With each track well-crafted and focused, the Ditty Bops’ self-titled debut release, like their name, is light and playful, encouraging you to simply enjoy rather than judge. And to that end, they are so successfully charming that you’ll find yourself tunelessly trying to hum along to the melody you haven’t had time to learn.
Perhaps the ghost town of ideas left behind by the swing movement of the ’ 90s gives rise to this small country blend of blues, folk and love-song standards. The effect is simultaneously nostalgic and new, a translation of familiar territory from a different perspective. The Ditty Bops have carved an honest niche within existing musical themes, a task sometimes more difficult than braving new ground. ( Trace Bateman )
That said, this album is like a comfy old sweatshirt for fans of the aforementioned bands. Its lyrical despondency and sonic jubilance leaves you with a wheat-bread fullness, owing its density to a hodgepodge of random instruments and sounds. Even its ambient bits swell with some sort of indistinguishable meaning, as is requisite in this genre. I don’t mean it’s outright mimicry, it’s just, you know, familiar. And, hey, if you like whole-grain, why switch to Iron Kids? ( Molly Kincaid )
But, alas, Nada—or some cooler reincarnation thereof—beat our predictions to the gate. The band resurfaced in 2003 on Barsuk Records, home of Starlight Mints, Rilo Kilo, Mates of State and a couple dozen other indie bands you love, with a pretty little pop record, Let’s Go , in hand. The album announced Nada’s makeover with quietude and graceful authenticity, dismissing the band’s former post-grunge antics with the ease of a supermodel recalling a bad adolescent haircut. The band’s latest, The Weight is a Gift, continues in this tradition, catching the ear off-guard with its roll-the-window-down melodies and playful rhythms; sneering cynicism need not apply. Even the snobbiest listeners will be charmed by the new Nada’s chunky, introspective power-pop, a sound that’s clearly under the influence of its northwestern label-mates (Death Cab, most notably, whose guitarist Chris Walla produces the album.) It cheerfully emotes of love and loss, and unearths mostly sensible solutions: “Maybe this weight was a gift/ like I had to see what I could lift.”
Of course, the decision to traverse emotive territory comes with due risk; sentimentality can blow up in a band’s face like a peanut-butter landmine, slathering what could’ve been good, clean sadness with melodramatic goo. In this respect, Nada toes the line between perfection and disaster, undermining breaths of lyric brilliance with O.C.- caliber poetry. All things considered, we wish them the best: the unbearable lightness of being Nada Surf is a heavy burden, but they’re shouldering it just fine. ( Leslie Wylie )