The New York band Longwave sounds exactly what you’d expect from a band who has been produced by both Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Low) and more recently, John Leckie (Radiohead, Verve, Stone Roses). And what I expect from a band with those credentials is extraordinarily high. Too long lumped in with the proto-’70s throwbacks from NYC like the Strokes, Longwave is finally distancing themselves from the pack by showing their influences like hearts on their sleeves, playing music that yearns for my favorite year in popular music, 1985.
When the band gets slow and expansive (having added a keyboardist to the quartet), their songs sound like b-sides of bands like Simple Minds, Icicle Works or even like their heroes U2 on songs like “River (Depot Song),” which could have been a lost song from The Unforgettable Fire tour. Frontman Steve Schlitz can sound like a cross between Peter Murphy and Glen Hansard at times, which is really an all-encompassing analogy for the band, meaning that they blend the past and the present in a fluid way. For some, the absence of a sound of the future will detract from the presentation, but then again, Longwave has never claimed to try to be the Arcade Fire.
There’s a Fire is a dramatic pop record. Its depth and breadth of sound will liken it, and already has, to legends like the aforementioned U2, R.E.M. and Radiohead (the song “We’re Not Gonna Crack” is a sister song to “Just”), and their followers such as Coldplay, Mercury Rev and Doves. I found one odd coincidence in the fact that I am also reviewing the new Posies record, which is released on the same day, and the albums could have been easily interchanged, each band playing each other’s songs, and not many would have noticed.
While nothing on There’s a Fire necessarily knocked my proverbial socks off (as I’m currently wearing slippers and no socks), it is one of the most consistently good records I’ve heard this year. Song after song there are no bad apples. It’s going to be a great CD to play in the car or in the office (if your office allows that kind of thing), or maybe even have songs play at random amongst your Bloc Party and Gorillaz tracks on your iPod while you run around the park. Songs like “Underworld,” “The Flood,” “Fall on Every Whim” and “Heart Attack” are the types to start you in a slow lope only to surge your adrenaline by the coda, running at full bore as if you were listening to Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire soundtrack unironically.
Longwave could easily end up to be rock radio staples like Coldplay. The double guitar and dreamy keyboard atmospheric sound they create is primed for popularity. If it doesn’t, then someone at RCA should probably be fired for their marketing non-abilities. Because after all, only about 2% of the stuff coming out is absolutely great, and maybe another 5% that is above average while the rest of the CDs on the market are really instant decoupage, coasters or hanging window decoration. Longwave falls into that second 5%, a talented band with a record that is above average by any standard.