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It was hard to cop a buzz from most of the northeast collegiate bands in the early oughts; the music was by and large unexceptional, and most of the musicians spent as much time in front of an easel—or wrapped around a bong—as they did practicing. But then there were the rumors coming out of Harvard: the college’s most convincing band had a retro, jammy thing going on; they performed cheeky pop songs while wearing Bermuda tuxedos; their lead guitarist had a Trey-worthy tone but played with his back to the audience, Miles Davis-style, too aloof or too shy to give a proper rock ‘n’ roll performance.
A year later, I saw Chester French play a stuffed, sweaty Harvard venue known as the Fishbowl, and the guitarist had transformed. He gamboled about the stage, wagging his tongue at the audience and coining a curious update of the Chuck Berry duck-walk. Shredded, too. Their songs were generally OK, their stage presence above average, their ODB cover insolently upper-crust and a total slam-dunk.
The bow-tie, white-boy hooks were enough to catch the attention of rhythmic prepster Kanye West, who called during the spring of their senior year to offer them a record deal. Smart-alecks that they were, they turned him down, opting to become the first white guys ever produced by Pharrell Williams. Two years in L.A. and one trendily short-lived debutante marriage ensued (that shy freshman guitarist? He grew up fast!). And now we have Love the Future, the first full-length from the two remaining members of the undergrad lineup.
Maxwell Drummey (guitar) and D.A. Wallach (vocals) have created an unquestionably refined record, its organizing principle (and this is very Kanye) being the question of how style can best trump substance. Most of the songs concern the groupie-upgrade that comes when young rockers matriculate in L.A.: “You know that I’ve been locked up in school/and I’ve been foamin at the mouth for a while/and you might be everything that I need/but maybe I just need to get wild,” Wallach sings to his “Puerto Rican Pamela Lee” in the song “Bebee Buell” (the latter is one of the nicest compliments on the record). When guys with pure voices and impure thoughts lend above-average melodies to commercial preoccupations, critics start blathering about the Beach Boys. (One even called this record “The Beastie Boys covering the Beach Boys.” Touché.) But that’s a bit unfair, plus there’s excessive electronic mashups thrown in, a country song, and a string-heavy Mancini/Aznavour/Francophile thing going on. The closest analogy is rock as conceived in mid-’60s mod flicks (Blow-Up, &c.)—more important for what it seems to mean than for what it does; more significant as a sign of what’s coming than as anything in and of itself.
The less said here, perhaps, the better, as the group has already generated an amount of copy inversely proportionate to the quantity or quality of its recorded output. In case the buzz holds over into anything approaching posterity, though, here’s one for the books: a clip from their college EP that showcases the group’s not-quite-sneering humor. And how far Wallach has come as a frontman.
“Dance With Me” from Chester French’s First Love
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