There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
I’m guessing that most fans of the Aislers Set fall into one of two categories: (1) obsessive fans of Belle & Sebastian, or (2) ex-obsessive fans of Belle & Sebastian. For the former group, dabbling with these Bay Area B&S tourmates may be just a bit on the side; for the latterespecially those for whom things ended badlythe Aislers could be a full-on rebound affair. How I Learned to Write Backwards, the band’s third long-player, is easy enough to love: 11 finger-snappin’, toe-tappin’ songs that rattle up and down the ’60s-via-’80s pop continuum in just over a half-hour. Though previous Aislers LPs followed much the same formula, nothing that preceded How I Learned can match it for smart arrangements, overall cohesion, and lyrical heft. The gorgeous album opener, “Catherine Says,” relates a tale of a suicide in the subwayor is it an underground transformation?with girl-group-goes-to-church harmonies set to a crisp 2/4 beat, cued by xylophone tinkle, and skewed by fuzz-tone guitar. Elsewhere, songwriter and head Aisler Amy Linton shows a new fondness for spare arrangements: In “Emotional Levy,” a homebody’s late-night loneliness becomes secret soul music, sung to little more than hand claps and bass. And though only a few stray chords prevent “Unfinished Paintings” from being a cappella, Linton’s vocals follow an unheard symphony. Lost love is the subject here, as well as on the mariachi-accented “Mission Bells,” which indicts the whole San Francisco neighborhood in the singer’s heartache. It’s the first of Linton’s many site-specific references; from Capp Street to “the warmest room I’ve ever known,” she’s excruciatingly sure about where she left her heart. But Linton keeps things moving forward throughout How I Learnedeven her ballads have a ghost of a beat, and numbers such as the ramshackle “Languor in the Balcony” and the driving “Attraction Action Reaction” keep the hooks in listeners. And although Linton’s Motown-to-Manchester influences are often clearly on display, she wears them with enough wit and personality to attract a few fanboys and -girls of her own. Indeed, if you’re feeling the right kind of sinister, How I Learned to Write Backwards may just prove crushworthy. Todd Hitchcock