Every indie label goes through some sort of transformation at some point or another — a sort of record company puberty, if you will. For some it can be quite awkward. Take Matador, for instance, and their poor decision to release hip-hop. Or perhaps 4AD’s mid-`90s crop of bland alternative/grunge signings. But for Bay Area-based Lookout! Records, their last three years’ worth of signings have actually strengthened their credibility. Formerly known as the label for pop-punk, Lookout! took the high road and released records by some of the more interesting acts in indie today, most notably Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Oranges Band and Ted Leo and The Pharmacists. And Communiqué, whose album Poison Arrows is one of the label’s most recent releases, only gives further proof that the company is moving in the right direction.
Based on their press photo, Communiqué looks a bit precious — methodically unkempt hair, Queer-Eye-meets-punk fashion statements. And, to be fair, Poison Arrows isn’t without its share of post-punk sass and vocal affectation. But I never said that that was a bad thing. Communiqué is just sassy enough, without coming off as overly dramatic. Their music suggests a childhood diet of Duran Duran, The Police and The Cure, each of whom employed a healthy amount of attitude and camp in their day. But despite Communiqué’s blatant adoration of their Goth and new wave heroes, they are very much a modern band.
Poison Arrows isn’t so much an album as it is a grouping of catchy singles. Every song is packed with hooks and sing-along choruses. Though the first proper single is the Blondie-esque “Perfect Weapon,” any of the ten tracks here would do the trick. “Evaporate” is especially infectious, combining an Andy Summers-like faux-ska strum with an eerie synth hook. But the chorus is what will turn the band into teen heartthrobs: “Take a look in my eyes/all my secrets/evap-o-raaaaaate.” Combined with a sexy, “Hungry Like the Wolf” style video, that sort of come on would be irresistible to female and metrosexual male alike.
But Communiqué’s lyrics aren’t all about style and seduction. The endearing “My Bay” is a tribute to the band’s hometown. And “Ouija Me” does for the Parker Brothers’ talking board what “Call Me” did for Ma Bell. But even tackling lighter material such as this, the band still carries themselves with swagger and finesse.
Lookout! should be proud of themselves, as they have a winner on their hands with Communiqué. Though many will certainly wax nostalgic about the golden days of Screeching Weasel and The Mr. T Experience, it’ll be fun and interesting bands like Communiqué that will bring a new audience to the legendary label.
Duran Duran – Rio
The Walkmen – Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone
Hot Hot Heat – Make Up the Breakdown
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.