Eternal Summers EP
(Chimney Sweep; 2010)
By Lindsay Zoladz | 1 April 2010
Forgive me if I seem a little bored by what I hope history has the good sense not to call shit-gaze, but I’ve been in the company of downcast eyes a little too much these days. I recently started a new job, and have found myself—tired-lidded, be-Sennheiser’d, pants clumsily ironed (OK, full disclosure: pants not actually ironed)— splashed down right in the middle of the Brooks Brothers salmon run that is the Washington, DC morning commute. Self-important Blackberry twiddling, intimidatingly shiny shoes, that sort of maddeningly nonchalant expression that seems to inhabit the face of every person when they’re holding a Kindle: let’s just call it newspaper-gaze.
The whole thing makes me feel like such an egregious outsider that I’m starting to ask myself the most basic questions about style. Because, polish or scuzz, isn’t it all the same? Even when it’s done so right—the delicious fuzz that envelopes every second of the first Vivian Girls album (2008); a patterned pocket square that some guy can incorporate into his office wear with enviable panache—it’s still an accoutrement of style. You get so used to it, then you come to expect it, and eventually you just plain appreciate it with this detached acknowledgement when it’s done right. And then something comes along that is such a slight variation on the formula, but such a welcome one, that it should completely knock all detached acknowledgements off balance, which, right in the throes of this shit-gaze/glo-fi nature-show commute, is what the Eternal Summers’ self-titled debut has done to me. It is a record that puts substance way ahead of uniformed and uninspired style, and for that reason it has the jolt and directness of a stranger on the subway looking you square in the eye.
But of course, Eternal Summers is nothing new. Plenty of bands have already taken on the formal challenge of trimming the fat from pop songs: the Strokes, Guided By Voices, Young Marble Giants, Beat Happening, the list goes on and on. Eternal Summers are probably closest to the latter given their penchant for sweet, sunny hooks, but even stacked against a band like Beat Happening they feel more minimalist, their simple, unornamented brand of indie-pop making coyness, child-like sentiment, and Calvin Johnson’s eternally cool baritone feel as gaudy as Christmas baubles. Hailing from Roanoke, Virginia, the band achieves the rare feat of making simple music that doesn’t make a spectacle of its own simplicity. For example, behold “Fall Straight Back,” a truly wonderful pop song made from the humblest materials, a macaroni necklace that glistens like a strand of diamonds. Backed by a couple of dutifully strummed power chords and a simple, steady beat, Nicole Yun leads the way to a chorus that pleads, heartbreakingly, “Please don’t leave me out of your plans.” Yun’s vocals are a versatile instrument, pivoting from ethereal falsetto (“Loaded One”), to sassy staccato (“Heart Squeeze”), to, best of all, this wholehearted, head-thrown-back wail she showcases on “Fall Straight Back” and “I Must Winter.” And then there’s “Able To” in all its glory: a chorus of unadorned imperatives (“Now is the time to distinguish yourself from previous ways that you have been living / Now is the time to relinquish yourself to future ways of precious forgiving”) followed by verses that ask, repeatedly, in intonations that vary ever-so-slightly, until you finally get the point, “Are you able to? / Are you? / Able? / To?” This is a song that wants to cut the bullshit and ask you something very directly; it would use your first name if it could find a way to know it.
There’s an undeniable slightness and smallness to this record (even temporally speaking: it’s only 17 minutes long), but it shouldn’t be automatically mistaken for inconsequentiality. No, it’s not exactly a game-changer, and it’s probably going to find a lot less listeners than a record that hides underneath its cool, scuzzy sheen of Hugo-Boss-caliber distortion the secret that its pop songs are not even half as catchy as these. But this EP is good, good in a way that sort of belies my attempts to hang all sorts of critical adornment (personal narrative, comparisons to well-liked bands, an extended metaphor that butts its head, uninvited, into the third paragraph) upon it. So, again: This EP is good, and it is wholly deserving of what it asks of you, which is about 17 minutes of your day, or perhaps a morning commute. It’s as simple as that.