There’s really no avoiding it, so let’s just get it out in the open — Robbers on High Street sound a lot like Spoon. From the simple, taut melodies to the raspy vocals of frontman Ben Trokan, there’s little disputing the similarities. For some, this would be a drawback, as blatant similarities to any band, no matter how good, are inevitably seen as detrimental in the ears of less forgiving listeners. I, myself, have trouble with any band that is trapped in another’s shadow. But after a few listens, it becomes clear that that’s not the case with Robbers on High Street.
What is immediately noticeable about ROHS is how tight and catchy their songwriting is. Though some may point to The Walkmen or, of course, Spoon as reference points, Robbers have a decidedly more polished sound that gives them a more commercial, singles-friendly sound. Again, this is not a bad thing. Garage rock is fun and all, but it’s nice to hear a band take it to a level conducive to radio airplay and road trip mix tapes. Not that Walkmen and Spoon aren’t, but Robbers on High Street are just a little more dressed up. In a sense, they’re The Killers to Spoon’s Interpol.
Tree City, the group’s debut full-length doesn’t skimp on hooks or riffs. The irresistibility of opener “Spanish Teeth,” even with silly lyrics like “the fit hit the shan,” can’t be denied. The one note piano, the horn section, the singalong chorus — it all makes for a perfect single, should it ever be released in such a format. “Japanese Girls” and “Love Underground” rock in a more straightforward style, opting for power chords over piano notes, while “Descender” is deliciously dark and exotic, like Santo and Johnny playing a Depeche Mode song. “Price and Style” is, indeed, stylish and sexy, something that few of Robbers on High Street’s peers succeed at pulling off.
The most important thing about Tree City is how fun it is. A song like “Bring on the Terror,” in spite of its name, is just plain good times, from hooks to lyrics, and a vocal performance from Trokan that sounds more like Ted Leo than Britt Daniel. In a city (New York) and scene choked with so many sound-alikes, Robbers on High Street provide a more lighthearted alternative to their more straight-faced peers. And after awhile, you start to forget that they even reminded you of any other bands in the first place.
Spoon – Kill the Moonlight
Walkmen – Everybody Who Pretended to Like Me Is Now Gone
French Kicks – One Time Bells
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.