Saturday Looks Good To Me

Fill Up the Room

(K; 2007)

By David Greenwald | 30 December 2007

Torment and indie pop don't usually go hand-in-charm-braceleted-hand. There's no reason to expect a genre epitomized by bouncy 4/4 backbeats, prepubescent choirboy/girl vocals and jangling guitars would ever have anything to do with anything other than senior prom and polka dots. At least not musically: sure, the Softies wrote some of the saddest songs the Pacific Northwest -- Nirvana included -- ever produced, but they sure sounded pretty cheery. But Saturday Looks Good To Me have never been a typical indie pop band.

The Fred Thomas-fronted outfit has been around in some form or another since 1999 but they've yet to lose the idiosyncratic voice that's made them one of the genre's most interesting groups. And what a voice: Thomas is a fantastic composer, but as a vocalist he squirms and anguishes his way through many of these songs, a K Records Conor Oberst. Indie pop isn't supposed to have angst; when he leans back and lets the song do its job -- as on "Make a Plan," a track with hooks big enough to kill a whale -- it results in the album's most traditionally captivating moments. "The Americans" and the Betty Marie Barnes-sung "Hands in the Snow" are as catchy and adorable as it gets. Still, despite an abundance of blissful plug-and-play strummers, EZ-twee doesn't seem to be Thomas' goal.

Good for him. It's much more exciting to hear him struggling through the dirge-like "Apple," straining his throat on the gruff enunciation of "I could filllll up the rooooom!" The songs themselves are similarly fractured, using many of the psychedelic elements pillaged by '60s indebted groups like Fruit Bats and even Neutral Milk Hotel (the furious drumming and call-and-response horns of "When I Lose My Eyes") and occupying a just-gritty-enough position on the fidelity meter. Take the electric guitar that farts along over the otherwise gentle nylon-string chords of "Make a Plan," or the Beach Boys reverb and burnished guitars of the lulling "Peg."

As far as these things go -- which usually isn't that far when four chords and a killer melody is the name of the game -- Fill Up the Room is a complex record, one that takes a few listens to get your head around. Thomas has always been one to subvert pop expectations; one of his finest moments is a breathtaking solo version of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" that turns the track from a torch song to a brushfire. His band's latest accomplishes that task without sacrificing a core of fine songwriting and musicianship. Despite plenty of flash and pep, there's a rawness here that most indie pop forgets to tap into. Let it bleed, Fred.