Features | Awards

The Alabama Hot Pocket Award for Bedroom Innovation

By Jessica Faulds | 6 December 2010

Lab Coast / Extra Happy Ghost!!!
Lab Coast / Extra Happy Ghost!!! Split 7”
(Saved By Radio; 2010)







There’s no way to describe the shared aesthetic of Lab Coast and Extra Happy Ghost!!! without making them sound like a sloppy afterbirth of 2010 buzzwords. They’re lo-fi, home-recorded, swaddled in reverb, and a just little sun-bleached. Yet both bands seem to come by their sounds honestly, driven by the whimsical sense of freedom that comes, ironically, with low-production-value limits. These songs aren’t just being played—they’re being played with. They transmit the joy of fudging around on some half-broken synth in your basement, of writing without stopping to think. And it’s this sense of tinkering, as well as the unabashed celebration of melody, that make this 7” from two unheard-of Calgary artists one of the most uncomplicatedly enjoyable releases I’ve heard all year.

The EP kicks off with a dirty crash cymbal sizzling over a toy piano in Lab Coast’s “For Now,” a perfectly abrupt opening for a ten-minute record jam-packed with hooks, echoes, tinned-out guitars, keyboard burps, and other musical minutiae. This sounds like the audio equivalent of a packrat kid’s bedroom—marbles and mason jars and tent pegs and bottlecaps spilling onto every available surface. Or it sounds like a radio with the dial set at the fuzzy edge of a 90s college radio station. Or it sounds like the cuttings of slacker rock growing wild, roots reaching in every direction.

Lab Coast offer the album’s most upbeat moments, with “For Now” equally distributing its hooks between instruments, and “Will I Be” bouncing on a tide of guitar jangle. The usual half-asleep fuzz pop is here wide-eyed and alert, maybe even a little hyper. Imagine Pavement after a few too many cups of coffee. Still, their ambitions never get out of hand. Unlike most revivalists , Lab Coast never give the impression that they’re trying too hard. In fact, singer David Laing references the slacker-dom head-on in “For Now,” asking, “Why don’t you do the things you say you have to do?” It’s a disarmingly straightforward question aimed right at the heart of Generation Y—the very same people to whom Lab Coast’s songs will feel instantly, nostalgically familiar. In the case of Lab Coast’s music, the medium and message chase each other’s tails, laziness here being the zenith of accomplishment.

Extra Happy Ghost!!! are in slightly murkier territory than their album-mates, both in terms of genre and sound. The songs remain lo-fuzz, with the satisfying wet towel-slaps of the snares still landing solidly on the backbeats, but EHG!!! dabble and experiment within the confines they’ve set for themselves. “1990s Brain Damage” features falsetto harmonies and a keyboard solo that sounds like white noise being pushed around with a dial. “Mechanical 111” includes vocals that sound like they’ve been shot out into space. Yet these songs are inescapably catchy, despite a hint of melancholy and lyrical abstraction. “1990s Brain Damage” is the EP’s slow jam, a dejected, lurching track that is nevertheless more disheartened than outright depressed. “Mechanical 111,” meanwhile, lays a sad-robot narrative over the celebratory echoes of organs and drum machines. “When you’re gone, how I miss the hum,” sings Matthew Swann, and whatever it means, it’s clearly the clearest articulation of sadness he’s willing to offer.

This EP runs the gamut of shambling ’90s college-radio lo-fi rock—which admittedly isn’t much of a gamut, but it’s enough to remind listeners of the genre’s merits, and of why bedroom recordings and junked toys are going to remain in play no matter how technology evolves. Not just because of their retro cachet, but because they’re fun. Making music is pleasure, this record reminds us. Behind closed doors, this is what is happening in the bedrooms of the nation.