Robbers on High Street seemed, in my mind, poised to be one of the biggest stories of 2005. Instead of taking the indie world by storm, they exploded onto the scene like a Christmas cracker instead of a nuclear bomb. I was so impressed by their initial EP, Fine Lines, that I felt their debut album, Tree City, just couldn’t lose. While it didn’t disappoint, it didn’t quite get the recognition they so richly deserved from their preceding release. Well, Robbers on High Street are back, returning to the indie fold with a release that plays to their strengths, the concise and hard-hitting EP.
The Fatalist and Friends is that EP, a proper release for a series of songs that originally appeared on the internet. The semi-title track, “The Fatalist,” finds the Robbers getting all Kafkaesque on us while they rock our socks off. Whether a recognition of their failure to become the `it’ band of ’05 or merely as a reflection of personal affairs, singer Ben Trokan opens the track and EP with “I was down for the count, down but not out, I was determined.” The fact that this EP doesn’t let up for a second is proof positive of that declaration. Trokan gives himself up to destiny, whatever it may be and uses his explanation as the chorus, “Give yourself into its vision, no more struggle, no decisions beyond your control, so give in and let go…enter the Fatalist.” All of these `Josef K.’ thoughts of destiny are set to a groove-a-licious bass line and crisp, ringing guitars, as well as their signature piano track. If ever the Robbers deserved their comparisons to Spoon, this song earns them that distinction.
“Married Young” follows quickly on “The Fatalist’s” heels, barely allowing a breath. The echoing surf guitar and the throwback background vocals are what make this song memorable. “Major Minor” arrives with another pair of dueling guitar riffs, only to have Trokan`s voice take control. In the song, he mentions “Tree City,” which makes me believe that this song might have been a cut title track from the last album. How it didn’t make the cut, I’ll never know. With this song, as with the others on this EP, the band really captures the high-energy rock of days gone by, when guitars cut like knives, pianos were considered `rock and roll,’ and Elvis Costello was king. “Monkberry Moon Delight” is the final track, a song that injects an Eastern European flavor to this Paul McCartney solo classic. Again, the backup harmonies are spot-on, sounding slightly Beatlesque (and shouldn’t it?), with the rest of the song sounding as if Tom Waits teamed up with Billy Joel (at his edgiest) and Britt Daniel.
Robbers on High Street certainly grabbed my attention with early songs like “Hot Sluts (Say I Love You)” and the mesmerizing “Opal Ann,” but they never got quite as much attention as they probably should have. While Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio stole the New York limelight, the Robbers fell back into the shadows. The Fatalist and Friends was released as somewhat of a preview to their upcoming full-length album, and if the rest is anything like this, then we’ve got more than just “Spoon, Jr.” on our hands.
Robbers on High Street- Fine Lines
Spoon- Sister Jack EP
Billy Joel- The Stranger