Is it me, or does the shadow of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah grow vectorially longer with the passage of time? When the rocket fuel of the internet launched their self-released debut from obscurity into the national consciousness in a few short 2005 weeks, it sure seemed as though they would revolutionize the way music and albums were produced and marketed. But I’m talking more about the actual sound and sensibility, for hot on the heels of splashsters The Laughing’s Clappish debut Tiger Cry comes Peel’s self-titled first album, also owing a heavy debt to CYHSY - just in time for their predecessor’s April 28 date with Stubb’s in promotion of their second album, also self-released in this country (they deigned to sign with a label in the UK) earlier this year.
But whereas The Laughing emphasizes the spectacle, Peel injects a searching intelligence into the equation, from the very first line: “If I had my way I’d demolish / every building of rock polished / to shine so bright / like headlights in the day time.” It’s brilliantly phrased, and signals this album’s cerebral consciousness of time and place that, by virtue of the obvious fun of the actual music, steers well clear of smarm, condescension, and self-congratulation. Little lyrical nuggets like this speckle the album throughout: the spacey “Bells,” track two: “It’s never fast / it’s always slow / I haven’t made up my mind / but when I do you’ll be the first to know / why you’re always skipping out / always trying to give out / always giving up”; track four, “Sliding Doors,” which has got to be a dig at the 1998 Gwynneth Paltrow claptrap, and maybe also Christian Slater’s 1993’s piece of ess: “You’re the owner / of an untamed heart it’s true / but everything you do / is gonna come back to haunt you”; track five, “Workers, Wake Up!” (the exclamation mark cannot but call to mind Luna’s political parody ” U.S. Out of My Pants!” from 1999’s The Days Of Our Nights, with which this certainly shares a sensibility): “Tightrope walking / next to freeways / this blue collar / won’t fall easily / пїЅ / decapitated / is the one who walks / without working”; track six, “1949″: “They’ve got crimes / that you’ll never re-discover / and there’ve been times / I thought I’d never recover.” Confer Clap Your Hand Say Yeah’s “Is this love / this is love / is this love / this is love” etc.etc., and you’ll see that we have a winner.
The contrast between this persistent, although intellectually justified, nihilism and the actual sonics produces a delightful tension, and for Peel hardly shortchanges the bombast. (I listened to this album for the first time while making that horrible drive down to San Antonio, and mistook some kind of Moog-y whistle on track three, “In the City,” for cop sirens, inducing a frantic mirror check.) It’s in this regard—the club-sandwich vocals, the busy-but-not-too-busy musicianship, the playfulness of the atypical sound effects and distortions—that they are most reminiscent of CYHSY. It takes seamless studio work for both Peel and Clap to make it all happen, for this is ludicrously difficult music to put together. If the puzzle pieces do not click perfectly together then things fall apart quickly. On Peel, the joints never show. To see what I mean, contrast, say, What Made Milwaukee Famous, who for all their acclaim rely, in my opinion, too heavily on Michael Kingcaid’s near-perfect indie-rock voice and whose corpus always falls short of coherence. (”1949,” especially on the keyboard intro, is quite reminiscent of WMMF, although melodically the band Peel most reminds me of is Islands.) Peel is more of a complete package: the drumroll intro to track seven, “Moxy Blues,” meshes perfectly with the synthesized oscillating woo-hoos, and ditto the noisy hi-hat interruption of the singer-songwriterish guitar on track eight, “Love Soaked In Blood,” track nine’s, “Someone’s Cousin,” abrupt devolution from energetic guitar-driven shout rock into staticky distortion, and the ensuing segue into the echo chamber of track ten, “Tejax”: “Texas can’t hold ‘em [OK, that's a little cutesy] / so it’s back to California.” I sure hope not.
This is a full-length album, sort of. Like Clap, Peel keeps their songs delightfully short (the ideal length for a movie is 79 minutes; for a pop song, three minutes and nine seconds), and the eleven tracks here come to 35:17.