Let's Make Crimes
Full disclosure: there’s something about today’s youth that I flat out despise. Maybe it’s the know-it-all, Internet-loving attitude or the inability to make it through a single work shift without overindulging in self-loving “social media” crap every 30 minutes. I mention this because, despite his unrivaled status as the Great Young Hope of Fort Wayne’s music scene, I’ve always grouped Wooden Satellites frontman C. Ray Harvey, whether he deserves it or not, in with this confused, transformative generation. To me, Wooden Satellites always felt like something of a Young Man’s Band. Sound at what they do, for sure, but maybe not quite capable of making songs that have any mileage outside their target 15-to-23ish age group.
I knew the guy (C. Ray) was very smart, and I knew his band was talented. I knew his wife, Andrea, could howl, and I knew that, in general, there was a strange understanding of art that made sense amongst this crew (also featuring drummer Eric Frank and guitarist Andy Plank). But did I really believe that they could make a solid record that felt like real work? (And by “real work,” I mean music not made listenable thanks to an understanding of this or that hacked computer program, or made for a particular generation.) Did I feel that C. Ray was a real musician and not a guy who had figured out a bunch of programming and production basics? Well, not really. I should say, not in the way others who knew his work seemed to. Then I heard Let’s Make Crimes, the band’s new nine-song record. Finally, I got it. Produced by Off the Cuff’s Jason Davis (who runs an analog studio in Fort Wayne), the opening track, “When Fast At Home,” immediately got to me more than any other Wooden Satellites tune. Not only did I connect to it, but I was kind of blown away by how well the track worked as a whole. The writing. That wonderfully ornamental keyboard track. The lack of laptop-py vibes (thank God). Those juicy guitar riffs. Even C. Ray’s vocal performance, which had never before appealed to me. For maybe the first time ever, I truly found myself loving a Wooden Satellites song.
Full disclosure, part 2: Despite my previous lack of interest in C. Ray and his Satellites, I’d often catch myself singling him out as the Fort Wayne musician with the best chance of “making it” on the national level, due mostly to his general smarts and ambition. Though his music had never really appealed to my personal tastes, I always “got” what he was doing and knew that he and his crew were doing it all quite well – if not always tastefully. Crimes is a delight because, though this is still Young Man Music, there’s a full-blooded sophistication here that offers quite a bit of crossover appeal. In the same way Bright Eyes’ frontman Conor Oberst “grew up” when he released Fevers and Mirrors all those years ago, it seems like, by getting off the laptop and recording with Davis, Wooden Satellites have pushed their sound to a new, far more musical and organic place.
For those unfamiliar with the band, the Satellites certainly maintain a youthful sound here, one that highlights song structures more informed by modern indie rock than classic rock. Harvey’s vocals come off as purposefully strained, not unlike early Oberst, while his wife (who sings lead on three tracks and backup on every other cut) offers a show choirish sort of appeal, not unlike Neko Case’s often theatrical work for Carl Newman’s The New Pornographers. And, damn, the lyrics and songwriting are pretty solid. So, in summation, imagine tossing elements of the Pornos’ song craft, Bright Eyes’ emotion and writing style, basic elements of power pop, emo and indie rock, The Get Up Kids’ youth appeal, The Cure’s synth-friendly haze vibe and Jimmy Eat World’s punchy but modest production value into a blender and you’ll have a starter idea of what to expect from this solid record.
My only real beef here is that I’m still not quite sure that the back-and-forth approach the Satellites took to lead vocals between C. Ray and Andrea was the best way to go, at least as far as crafting a cohesive record is concerned. C. Ray has mastered his vocal approach and Andrea has always been a powerful singer, surely, but mixing their two very different styles over the same accompaniment brand comes off, to this listener at least, as a bit confusing. Just as you’re beginning to really believe in C. Ray’s gruff bark, in comes Andrea’s emotive howl. Then, when C. Ray comes back in and you’re taken out of the vibe, possibly wondering if this is a new band still working out some kinks. Maybe you’re in a C. Ray mood, maybe you’re in an Andrea mood; the point being that their styles do, in fact, offer two very different appeals. Maybe not a huge deal, but, had they maybe sequenced things differently or even recorded split lead duties on more tracks (see “Worsted” for a good example of this), I feel things would’ve worked better. Needless to say, the harmony achieved on, say, a Low, Yo La Tengo or New Pornos record, is an incredibly rare achievement.
That single small gripe aside, the Wooden Satellites should feel very good about Let’s Make Crimes. With songs like “When Fast At Home,” “Unpleasable,” “Truth is Stained” and “Sinew,” they’ve put together a very solid full-length that, thanks to the production and solid writing, will age much better than their past work. Presented as a low-priced LP/CD combo pack, the album is currently available for $9.99 at both Wooden Nickel and Neat Neat Neat Records & Music. A solid piece of work from the songwriting to the record’s presentation, don’t be surprised if Let’s Make Crimes goes down as one of the best Fort Wayne records of its time and maybe even gets the band some well deserved out-of-town exposure. (Greg W. Locke)
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