For Art History, the band worked with producer Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Neon Indian, Wild Nothing) for the eleven tracks that present a cohesive gallery of modern‐day pop portraits framed with a retro '80s fit. The new Art History CD follows the band's 2010 EP "Affair", which won over local and national press, with My Old Kentucky Blog raving, "This could be the next buzz band everyone is talking about."
For folks like me who "shot up" on college radio in the 80's, this disc has an immediately recognizable post-punk sound with a gauzy shoe-gazer core which the band is able to build upon with some incredibly catchy hooks and melodies. I haven't given a lot of thought to an end-of-year list as of yet but, as this disc hasn't yet left my iPod, Art History will likely be toward the top of the list.
The disc starts with two of its strongest tracks - "Blood Red Youth" and "Tokyo" - before heading into the wistful indie-pop of "Marianne". "Blood Red Youth" sets the tone for the disc with its 80's-sounding New Wave synthesizers coupled with strong guitar lines and a driving beat. "Tokyo" is a bit more chipper and sounds somewhat like a Smashing Pumpkins song, though, with more self-restraint and less bombast. This track also pulls some ringing guitar lines out of the shoe-gazer swirl. Adding to California Wives' big sound, guitarist/vocalist Jayson Kramer sings in an understated voice so that his vocals become another "instrument", guiding the songs and melodies but never riding on top of them. The band is also able to replicate the 'big sound' of their new disc in concert. Below is a live clip from the show at Webster Hall that I found on YouTube.
Overall, the disc doesn't stray far from its core - "The Fisher King" is swirling and moody and sounds like a cross between The Cure and the Cocteau Twins, "Los Angeles" sounds like it could have come out of The Church's back catalog, and "Photolights" has the atmospheric ambiance and ringing guitar lines of U2's Joshua Tree coupled with a nagging New Wave synth line. While the disc comes close to capturing the urgency and energy of the opening tracks on "Purple" some of the other tracks on the back-half of the disc sag a bit. "Better Homes" gets a bit too close to 70's schmaltz rock and "The New Process" sounds strangely like post-Waters Pink Floyd (the later isn't a bad thing, just unexpected).
All-in-all though, it is a strong disc from a band that shows a lot of potential.
California Wives' tour with Stars and Diamond Rings run through the Midwest and West Coast next month. Here is a link to upcoming tour dates.