Monday, July 14, 2008

The M's -- Real Close Ones (2008)

The M’s -- Real Close Ones (Polyvinyl)

Slow and steady wins the race. That adage may very well apply to this talented Chicago quartet. Over the course of an EP and three albums, The M’s have continued to sharpen its songwriting skills, giving the band’s music more resonance.

The band still stakes out a sound that is heavily inspired by the pastoral Kinks and T. Rex (two artists of a similar bent), occasionally showing off some rock and roll muscle, which is much more on display in the live setting. The production on the band’s records puts The M’s squarely in the indie rock bin, unlike the comparable, more poppy The 88.

A great example of this is soulful “Papers”. This integrates a typically glam kissed melody with an insinuating R & B groove. A supple bass line and slinky shuffle drums set the tone, with unusual keyboard sounds that counterpoint the sensual rhythm. The band pushes the limit with odd sounds here, knowing that this groove allows for everything from what sounds like a guitar solo run through a keyboard and bent out of shape to general fuzziness all over. This is akin to some of Beck’s work, but not remotely derivative of him.

Although this is a good album all the way through, the best songs are definitely the first three. “Big Sound” kicks things off in fine fashion, mixing the playful creativity of Lilys with the sturdy rock drive of Sloan, with a wobbly feel that things might fall apart at any time that is totally the domain of The M’s. A horn section adds some drive while an organ swells, a piano plinks and the band heads to the finish line.

On “Breakfast Score”, the band is fey and cute. The oompah rhythm is one favored by Candian singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman, with a ‘70s folk-pop flavor mixed in (think Stealer’s Wheel). This song induces swaying and asks the pertinent questions: “What are you doing with your life/but just being around/what are you doing with your life/but just being a clown?” This is light fun.

It’s followed by a brilliant track, “Pigs Fly”. This sound has a languid lazy summer sound, with a gently strummed electric guitar, a loping bass line and light drumming. Here, the falsetto vocals of Josh Chicoine sound as sweet as the melody, and there is a lot of feeling in this song. The lovely music is a foundation for lyrics about being in dire straits. The vibe of the classic Move is all over this track, but it’s as if The M’s filtered the Roy Wood led band’s sound through early-‘70s Philly soul. Yes, it’s that sublime.

“Pigs Fly” was, along with the slacker-motivational “Get Your Shit Together”, one of the tracks that immediately grabbed me on this disc. Overall, the album is a grower. And while the first half is the stronger one, there is swell fare on the second half, and the closer, “How Could You?” is a rustic ballad that is classic, in that Kinksy way I alluded to earlier, but shows how The M’s have developed a specific personality, and its own type of soul. Yep, this band is getting better and better.

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