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September Girls 

The Like’s debut LP delivers hazy, wistful intoxication

Thursday, Jul 28 2005
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It’s easy to dislike The Like: three comely young girls practically born into music careers (all daughters of prominent biz figures), spinning in the same comfy orbit as silver-spooned L.A. guitar acts Phantom Planet and Rooney. (Members of all three are schoolmates from chi-chi Crossroads.)

But an hour alone with The Like’s debut album, Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? (due September 13), and even cynics can surrender to its soft-focus nostalgia snapshots. Wistful Sunday-afternoon journal entries float amongst uncluttered guitar, bass and drums, recalling a less jangly Bangles, flavored by Z Berg’s generally glacial, occasionally throaty, detached Debbie Harry–isms.

Far from a Blackberry-distracted, boho Paris Hilton, the 18-year-old Berg (daughter of A&R exec and Beck/Squeeze producer Tony Berg) is vividly present, focused and utterly in touch with her art. Since The Like — completed by bassist Charlotte Froom, 18 (daughter of Elvis Costello/Sheryl Crow producer Mitchell Froom), and English drummer Tennessee Thomas, 20 (whose dad is Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas) — formed in 2001, they’ve exploited family and social connections. They’ve opened for Costello, Phantom Planet and Maroon 5, while releasing three self-produced EPs independently; last year, almost inevitably, they signed to a major label (Geffen).

But no amount of nepotism could make Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? the hazily insular intoxication it is. Producer Wendy Melvoin (ex–Prince and the Revolution) and co-producer John Goodmason (Blonde Redhead, Bikini Kill) wring perkier performances and memory-staining harmonies from The Like without shunning the lo-fi appeal of their earlier recordings.

“We didn’t want anything too slick or ostentatious,” says Berg. “While the pitch may be bad in some of those EP vocal tracks, and some of them were done when we were 15 years old, we hopefully managed to retain the charm and rawness of those recordings.”

The disc begins optimistically, with the beat-pop boom-chick and rotund, descending progression of “June Gloom,” but that title says it all: What should be a celebratory, summery thing is glum-tinted by Berg’s just-done-crying vocal and the gauzy harmony that shades the end of a surprisingly weighty chorus (witness The Like’s love of late-’80s amp abusers the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine).

“I have the ‘songwriter’s curse,’” admits Berg. “We all love ballads! The high points [of the album] to me are ‘June Gloom,’ ’cause that song is just really exciting to me and the lyrics are really sad. After that, ‘Once Things Look Up’ is also one of my favorites.”

Good gawd, girl — “Once Things Look Up” is the sound in your head immediately post breakup call: a hypnotized vocal delving into Berg’s lower register, buoyed by Froom’s signature, effortlessly effective few-note bass motifs.

“I am not a tortured artist,” stresses Berg. “I’ve always been a pretty happy kid, so it’s funny that I became a songwriter — it seems wrong in a way. But I guess it’s because the way I deal with things in my life, logically, is to deal with them immediately ... but then the long, lingering problems that I don’t dwell on logically find their way out of me in my songs.”

Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? displays both classic influences (Beatles, Kinks, Stones) and unlikely turn-of-the-’90s stimuli (the Sundays, Ride, Stone Roses, MBV and JAMC), while repeatedly evoking Blondie’s pulsing/pensive pop. The Like’s lack of technical chops (all were instrumental novices when the band began) is a boon, putting songs and singing before shredding.

Big budget and name producers aside, Are You Thinking also benefits from The Like’s newfound coherence as a touring act. Sharing a van for weeks at a time has only cemented their bond: Berg shows not just respect and admiration for her bandmates, but a continuing fascination with them. (“Charlotte’s funny because she hates people but she loves all animals”; “Tennessee is like Alice in Wonderland.”)

The Like’s superstatic live show makes their shoegazer heroes look like Kiss, but they have the tunes and coy physical presence to hold a crowd. Yet far from trading on photogenic blessings, their EPs were packaged in deliberately spartan, photo-free sleeves, and their album art is a downright unflattering caricature.

The title is a reference to The Like’s band/fan interaction: “I have a problem with arts in general being too passive, and I think that’s why I like music so much: Because I think it’s the most interactive of all the arts, particularly in live music. The audience really dictates what the show is going to be like ... it’s not just like looking at a painting in a sterile gallery and whispering about it — you’re a part of the artwork. I don’t like to print out the lyrics ... so on our message board we have multiple threads of people making up what they think the lyrics are and I really like that, because then it sort of becomes their song as much as it is mine.”

THE LIKE | Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? (Geffen)

The Like play the Troubadour on Tuesday, August 2.

Reach the writer at progers@laweekly.com

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