at King King, March 29
A real chin-stroker, the title of Irving’s new Death in the Garden, Blood in the Flowers scarcely prepared us for the puzzlingly schizo platter’s giddy highs interpolating broody, sententious lows. Nor did it ready us for the band’s revved-up, joy-packed performance at its record-release party, where there was a noticeable dearth of death on the agenda.
For the most part, Death in the Garden is an adequately witty batch of hi-NRG pop effluvia with ample waves of beachy backup croons and singable melodies; it’s Irving’s second album proper, after a debut and an EP, all on the very fine Eenie Meenie label. The new disc, however, opens grimly with a Curelike track that’s a heavy downer of dire proclamations about “the gentle preservation of children’s minds” within a weakly constructed frame, a thinnish indie-type production, and harmonies that sound dashed off and tacked on. Doesn’t bode well for the rest, and in fact the follow-up Television/Cars hybrid “She’s Not Shy” is too similarly hued and again just not that well composed or produced.
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On tracks like these, you can feel a very pop-oriented band struggling not quite convincingly to show maturity — an admirable quality, but one often better left to bottles of wine. And that’s interesting, ’cause somewhere around the middle of the album, Irving hit their stride with a series of determinedly superficial party rave-ups about nothing more than gurls, luv and more gurls, as if casting off the yoke of significance and revealing themselves to be the happy-go-lucky bar band they were always meant to be. Leaning on ’60s-pop roots, with sunny harmonies and wiggy Farfisa organ, they hybridize a lot of Honeycombs/Swingin’ Blue Jeans melodies and harmonies to create a perhaps too-familiar sound that nevertheless only a total killjoy would fail to tap a toe to. These groovy blasts of jangly, wiry riff and thumping 4/4 come off all the richer for their exceedingly irrelevant synth fluff.
Such affirmative rock nonsense is cut in and around subtly plaintive and obliquely moody little things that, characteristic of the best parts of the album, don’t initially blow you away but find you tilting your head toward the speakers when they come ’round again on replay. That’s a commitment of time you’ll have to make, though, and meanwhile you might find Irving a somewhat frustrating band in that most of their songs feel about 80 percent realized, whether due to a not-fully-thought-out melody or a mediocre bridge or a too timidly experimental arrangement; the inconsistent quality is no doubt a result of Steven Scott, Alex Church, Brian Canning, Aaron Burrows and Brent Turner all sharing writing duties.
At King King, despite the band’s near-maniacal joie de vivre, their performance, like their record, didn’t generate immediate euphoria, ’cause I had to spend too much time trying to get a clear idea of what or who they were. But the little girls understood, as demonstrated by the gleeful squeals hurled like so much soiled laundry at this hard-working and likable band’s feet.