I was always told that if a bully was taunting me, I should immediately ingratiate myself to take away the bully’s power. It always worked. Rather than give him the satisfaction of seeing my upset, I played along, thereby emptying his gun of ammo, left wondering what the hell had just happened. New York’s Robbers on High Street had that same philosophy, I’m guessing, in choosing their name. Knowing, and I’m guessing here (the name actually came from a discarded lyric), that they were heavily influenced by British bands, the foursome basically admitted they were stealing from their overseas forebears from the get go. For those Yankees who don’t get it, the High Street is generally any major street in the UK that houses all the retail shops. But there’s another Brit(t) altogether that should feel slightly violated as the Robbers have also pick-pocketed Britt Daniel over the last few years. Fortunately, they mix both styles very well.
Nothing says Spoon like the opening track, “Across Your Knee.” Bouncing piano chords, jangly guitar riffs and Britpop basslines romp all over this track. It’s as if Starsailor moved to Austin, Texas and soaked in an entire SXSW conference. The song has everything including sweet crooning “oohs,” a horn section and Beatlesesque backup singing. “The Fatalist” and “Married Young” are both culled from a preview EP I reviewed not too long ago (as would make sense considering it’s a `preview’ EP) called The Fatalist and Friends. And although these fantastic tunes can still invoke Spoon references faster than the Tick fan club at the San Diego Comic Book Convention, they’re still some of the most infectious songs out there.
“Crown Victoria” is a mod tune in the style of later Jam tracks like “A Town Called Malice,” itself taken from early Motown and Stax singles. Like the Jam’s take on this classic sound, “Crown Victoria” is winning. I love when young bands revel in their youth, such as Weezer with their references to D&D and the X-Men comic books or the Lonely H and their ode to the Legend of Zelda. But no one seems to pull off youth nostalgia like Robbers on High Street with their ballad, “The Ramp,” about a kid who tries a daring trick on his bike, only to end up in the hospital on his deathbed. Double dares and references to Leo DiCaprio make appearances to great effect, making it the perfect song to the soundtrack for Hot Rod. Oh dear Lord, please let “Kick `Em in the Shins” be a sly dig at the Sub Pop band that released a really shitty album this year. Please? I’ve been good all year! (It’s not, damn.) But it’s still a catchy-ass tune.
“Nasty Numbers” seems like a worthy b-side to a single taken from the Stones’ Some Girls. The falsettos are sweet and the organs cool. It’s hard not to like this throwback tune and I like it plenty. “Your Phantom Walks the Hall” takes another left turn, blending ’50s style pop with Latin samba rhythms. I had always wondered what it would have been like to hear Buddy Holly singing with Santo & Johnny. “You Don’t Stand a Chance” is a charming little tune that easily could have been a post-Beatles John Lennon song. Ben Trokan’s voice even resembles John’s a little here. “Guard at Your Feet” and “Keys to the Century” slow things down a bit, not letting the album end with a screeching halt, but letting the listener touch the landing gear gently to the ground before slamming on the brakes.
Robbers on High Street impressed me from their first release, the EP Fine Lines. It’s been hard for the New York trio (who has a sound much bigger than three people) to shake the Spoon comparisons, but I can think of at least a hundred worse bands with which to be compared. When you want to be good, I guess you aim for the best. But the Robbers take a little Brit with their Britt and change it up just enough, especially on this album, to dismiss the `teaspoon’ and `baby spoon’ monikers. Grand Animals is the sound of a band finding its groove in all the right places.