Pretty and nice aren’t necessarily two words that have melded together in my experience, other than in nature. Then again, bear attacks. Generally I find that pretty people, who know they’re pretty, aren’t remotely nice. Late last year, an eight-year-old boy came to the same conclusion. This boy quite possibly wrote the most ridiculous book known to man, How to Talk to Girls. This kid, in all of his eight years of gathering wisdom, including a few of those in which he couldn’t speak, gave advice to men on how to talk to the fairer sex, even ending up on Oprah. Of the more inane things this kid writes is that guys shouldn’t go for the girls who wear a lot of makeup. In other words, go for the ugly girls, they’re easier to get. First of all, what school does this kid attend where eight-year-old girls are wearing makeup? Secondly, did I just agree with him earlier? Oh dear. Well, I can’t reconcile my own experiences with those of this kid, but nor can I reconcile a lot of things. Case in point, the music of Pretty & Nice.
Get Young, the debut album from Boston popsters Pretty & Nice totally works for me, but it is seemingly at odds with itself, much like the band’s name. Take the opening track, “Piranha.” The song is a playground see-saw, with alternating ascents of jagged or abstract post-punk guitars and sweet Beatlesesque falsetto choruses over harpsichord. Lead single “Tora Tora Tora,” is ’80s new wave / post-punk to the core, making danceable hay out of the Pearl Harbor attack code words. Might it be too easy to name a song “Pixies” and actually have it sound like Frank Black & co.? Yes, it is too easy, which is why this song sounds more like Spoon getting it on with the Sugarplastic while XTC looks on from the wings. The chorus of “fly away you pixies,” could be one of the sweetest refrains I’ve heard on record recently.
There are very few bands today that can get away with playing such unabashed pop homage without being overtly derivative or stale. While Pretty & Nice certainly wear some influences on their collective sleeves, they balance pop innovation with delicate reverence with seeming ease. “Peekaboo” is a track with falsetto that would make James Mercer blush, while “Nuts & Bolts” brings back the unbridled effervescent energy of the opener. The latter half of the album finds more of an Elfman-like dark carnival quality pervading nearly every song, but tracks like “Grab Your Nets” with inserted automaton keys and “Mr. Roboto” voice show that again, there is more to the songs of Pretty & Nice than just one direction. Such is also the case for “Solar Energy,” an unholy and thoroughly entertaining mash-up of Belle & Sebastian, Synchronicity-era Police and classic Nintendo game. “Solar Energy” then beautifully transitions into “Gypsy,” another high-energy Shins-like track.
It seems I now have to revise my statement from earlier. Pretty & Nice, as concepts, can apparently sit side by side without irony, especially as they relate to the band of the same name. I’ve heard countless bands over the years fire and miss when aiming at early ’80s post-punk, but Pretty & Nice are the William Tell of that particular endeavor. And now the musical history of Boston has more to claim than Aerosmith, the Pixies and a bunch of Berklee dropouts.
MP3: “Tora Tora Tora”