“Succeeds on the simple pleasures of big hooks, proper melodies and the hard-to-resist swooning indie-pop of John Hughes movies…”
California Wives | Art History
There aren’t many people on this Earth that, when deciding upon their future career, genuinely gets to ask the question: doctor or rock star. Jayson Kramer, lead singer of Chicago four-piece California Wives got to ask himself that exact question back in 2009. On the basis of this, his band’s debut album, we’re bloody pleased he chose the latter.
Art History, to be blunt, is one of those records that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, doesn’t even try to, but succeeds instead on the simple pleasures of big hooks, proper melodies and the hard-to-resist swooning indie-pop of John Hughes movies. While the nods to 80’s nu-wave are present and correct, this does sound, somehow, sound like a record made in 2012. This isn’t pastiche.
The 16-beat surge of ‘Purple’ perhaps best sums up what makes California Wives so delicious; urgent drums, and squalling guitar are paired with a lush, inch-perfect melody before everything melts away only to build once more to a devastating, shouty climax. And then, after only 160 seconds, it’s gone- the indie-pop equivalent of the one inch punch.
Much of Art History doesn’t hang around. The hooks are front and centre, waiting to be sung back after only a few listens. On the fantastic opening ‘Blood Red Youth’ you’d be hard pushed not to be singing along by the time the group launches into only its second chorus. Another high point, the throbbing, U2-esque instrumental ‘Photolights’ plays out its delightful chime well under the three minute mark.
‘Los Angeles’, which rides along on a sea of jangly guitar and a sweet synth motif is another particularly fine moment and is perhaps the most ‘Hughesy’ moment here, with Kramer cooing ‘when you wake up on your own and you know that you were wrong’ during an echoy, arena-sized chorus. There are moments here that pass you by, when the standard drops just a fraction, particularly in the album’s final throws, however the swooping closer ‘Light Year’ makes sure that Art History bows out on fine form.
When, three years ago, Kramer made the decision to follow music, scraping a living and sleeping on friends floors rather than stepping onto the medicine ladder with a rather fuller wallet, there must have been doubts. In Art History he has everything he’ll ever need to know he made the right decision.