Every so often I read a record review that laments the stasis of songwriting. The argument centers around the inability of so many artists to avoid a formulaic approach; a simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure is a standard, therefore it is boring. While I don’t agree with this hardline approach to creativity, I do appreciate the high-risk-high-reward approach of artists that can’t be contained by structure. For some artists, it’s only natural; for others, it takes a bit of a push.
Eternal Summers may need a bit of a push. Perhaps the group was looking for just that when bringing bassist Jonathan Woods onboard for second album Correct Behavior, turning the duo of Nichole Yun and Daniel Cundiff into a trio. At the very least this move added a spark. “Millions” starts off the record with fantastic exuberance as Yun rounds her way into the catchy chorus by aptly exclaiming, “I’ve got to shake this shell and break it into millions.” It’s enough of an impetus to nod one’s head and want to move with the beat in all sorts of enthusiastic motions. The next track, “Wonder,” goes further to encourage this riotous, rebellious attitude: “Now who could understand you / Putting your record on / Shut the back door / It’s just where you belong.” The consistent, rhythmic melodies continue to trip over themselves, the band seemingly impatient to show off the next great melody they draw up.
Perhaps this is why the standout track, in spite of these earnest moments of awesomely infectious angst, remains “Girls in the City.” It’s the only time the record doesn’t seem to ask for attention, which makes it fascinating by contrast. It’s also the only time Cundiff takes the microphone — given his Ian Curtis-like baritone and the group’s vibrant sounds, it’s admittedly an attribute most effective when rationed well. Correct Behavior finds him singing only once, and it is the most refreshing moment of the record.
The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner and Alonzo Vargas did the mixing — Eternal Summers’ retains a cleaner, sunnier disposition, yet a direct comparison can still be made at times. On Correct Behavior, the guitar shimmers and streaks while the drums provide that persistent pulse, despite the fact that there is never any sludge to cut through. The resulting sound also points to the group’s contemporaries from the other side of the country, such as Best Coast and Sonny and the Sunsets. While they may not have that sun-tinged sound, the prolific nature of the latter or posh indie charm of the former, they are damn good at songwriting. They take simple, clean riffs and give them vibrant life. The problem is that these simple melodies and short tunes wear out relatively quickly. Despite an overall runtime of just over 30 minutes, Correct Behavior —and each individual track, for that matter — feels a little bit front-loaded.
Don’t let that stop you from giving this record a listen; its agreeability, reliable songwriting and ability to keep heads nodding — albeit with the listless enthusiasm that seems to commonly denote an intriguing band that you’re not yet ready to show off to friends — is what makes it worth a spin in the long run. They’ve got their spark, but they’ll warrant greater attention once they use that energy to break through the barriers of conventionality.
Stream: Eternal Summers – “Wonder”