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It’s no wonder Art Sorority For Girls frontman Daoud Tyler-Ameen works at NPR Music. The indie-pop group’s sophomore LP Older Boys feels less like a studio album and more like a well-produced but lovably ramshackle Tiny Desk Concert, thanks to its acoustic guitars and sparse instrumentation.
Luckily, it works to the band’s benefit: Older Boys isn’t a lo-fi album by any means, but it possesses a homespun essence, as if it was made to be heard around a campfire with close friends. At its twee-est moments, Tyler-Ameen’s writing even resembles that of a young Kevin Barnes, who crafted what are arguably some of the best campfire songs of all time back in the early years of the Of Montreal moniker.
Unlike the wistful Barnes of the Cherry Peel era, though, Tyler-Ameen’s lyrics are quippy and quick-witted. “Stressed out anemic like a bad vegetarian/Got no idea what you’re blogging about,” he sings on the hilarious opening track “Die Hard.” On paper, such a line reads like a excerpt from a neurotic, alt-lit short story. But when held up by the song’s uptempo folk-rock melody, Tyler-Ameen’s zany observations become compelling, over-caffeinated rallying cries. The pop backdrop makes everything more inviting and approachable.
Still, some lines are too jarring to be saved by a sweet melody. On the breezy “The Cape,” Tyler-Ameen sings, “The weekend is a time bomb/The countdown on an iPhone.” While his commitment to abstaining from indie-pop’s nostalgia obsession is admirable, the word “iPhone” sticks out unpleasantly, like a lyric from Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” which makes some of the most pointless low-culture references ever. Tyler-Ameen’s Apple product name-drop isn’t as egregious or crass as Folds’ Quiet Riot, McDonald’s, and Preparation H, but it still feels unnatural in its attempt at signifying modernity.
Sonically, Older Boys works best when Art Sorority strips things down to vocals, an acoustic guitar, and some subtle percussion, like on the gorgeous, slow-burning closer “Like Like Like” and the tambourine-buoyed “Spaceship.” The absence of so many moving parts allows the listener to focus on Tyler-Ameen’s words, which remain, perhaps, the most fascinating aspect of the band’s work. They may oscillate between brilliant and slightly embarrassing, but they always charm.
The same thing applies to Older Boys overall. Like a Tiny Desk Concert, the album is chaotic and a little uneven, but it’s more than worth the short break from work to stay for the whole thing.