Is there any sweeter sound in the indie arsenal than the jangly guitar? Sure, power chords can be fun and feedback makes for some rebellious angelic noise, but a jangly Rickenbacker will save the world. The Byrds knew it; R.E.M. definitely knew it; the Shins know it, and now so do Human Television. This Gainesville, Florida quartet made the critical world take notice with their debut EP, All Songs Written by Human Television, garnering them comparisons to the similarly named, but more widely known Television Personalities as well as numerous nods to the Wedding Present. Their full-length debut, Look at Who You’re Talking To is that rare gift of an album, immediately likeable and better with every spin.
Billy Downing’s vocals are incredibly intimate and unabashedly sentimental, yet without getting all Carraba-level embarrassing. The dual guitars of Downing and Boyd Shropshire can either weave in and out of each other like the shoegazing wonders of the Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine as in the opener “I’m Moving On,” or they can jingle and jangle like the Shins or R.E.M. in songs like “Ten Minutes” or “Mars Red Dust.” This album is for those fans of the early mumbly days of R.E.M. when you couldn’t make out a single word Michael Stipe said but it didn’t really seem to matter.
But there’s more than that going on with Look at Who You’re Talking To. “Untitled” shows they can pull off the electronic aspects of Radiohead songs like “Sit Down. Stand Up.” “On and On” featuring the vocals of Shropshire, more resembles the work of Lou Barlow with Sebadoh than any of their usual comparisons. First single “Front of the House,” oddly placed toward the end of the album, is one of the most immediately catchy among the group, and that’s saying a lot. To be able to make a debut album as accomplished as this, managing consistency, flow and song differentiation all at the same time is stunning and provides even more hope for their future. The unlisted title track closes out the album with a beautiful string section, providing a coda that reemphasizes the intimacy that Human Television shares.
Downing says that the trick is in the layering. “You get all the parts talking to one another.” That’s exactly what makes this album work. Rather than trying to force anything, Human Television merely lets the instruments `talk’ to one another. Whether the album’s title refers to the instruments, its fans or its critics, Downing says he wrote the songs as if the album would be his last. And although that might be a bleak outlook, it certainly made for a winning result.
The Shins- Oh, Inverted World
Orange Juice- is The Glasgow School
The Jesus and Mary Chain- Automatic