Brooklyn’s Suckers have a strange fixation on gaudy to hideous visuals, from their press photos, which look a bit like the hangover stage after some kind of hippie desert rave, to the cover of their debut EP, which depicted a guy wearing a homemade kitty-cat Lone Ranger mask. The EP’s four songs were entirely too good to be ruined by a goofy-looking cover, however, making it clear that no matter how much the band cares to indulge in aesthetic fuckery, they get the music just right. In case anyone might think the band has gotten over this fascination with the grotesque, their latest single, “A Mind I Knew,” depicts some gooey brains, while full-length debut Wild Smile is adorned with a close-up illustration of a mandrill.
Lowbrow and/or baffling art aside, Suckers have again offered up a fantastic set of finely crafted indie rock, suggesting that, perhaps, there’s an inverse correlation between the allure of their visuals and the strength of their music. That may or may not pan out with future releases, but Wild Smile is a strong first set for the band, drawing upon Talking Heads style new wave pop and Modest Mouse’s gruffly epic anthems. That’s really just the foundation, however; Suckers cast their net far and wide, capturing moving power balladry, African rhythms and hypnotic synth pop across the album’s 11 tracks.
More than just a collection of great singles, Wild Smile has a dramatic flow to it, sequenced not just for the sake of capturing the listener’s attention, but to perpetuate an evolving mood. Rather than charging out of the gate with one of their more upbeat numbers, Suckers start off with twinkling, tearjerky ballad “Save Your Love For Me,” a gorgeous, six-minute tune that would make for a great hipster prom theme. As it builds and progresses, the volume raises and the distortion rages, and frontman Quinn Walker unleashes a falsetto usually reserved for ’80s metal bands. On any other album, this would be the perfect closer, but in the opening spot, it only invites more intrigue.
Immediately thereafter, the band gets to rocking out. “Black Sheep” features some familiar elements-disco hi-hat, a wailing chorus, a basic four-note bassline-but Suckers prove that in the right hands, even the most traditional of indie rock sounds can seem fresh and exciting. “You Can Keep Me Runnin’ Around” is crafted around some lovely highlife-inspired guitar riffs, while “A Mind I Knew” is a stunning exercise in slow escalation, beginning with a gorgeous melody that only grows more powerful and gut-wrenching as Quinn Walker converts his croon to a howl.
The lone holdover from the band’s debut EP, “It Gets Your Body Movin’,” remains a high point, layered with group vocals and soaring trumpet. It’s in good company on the album’s second half, bleeding into the click-clacking percussion of “Martha,” which features even more trumpet and commanding piano chords atop its reverb-heavy guitars. Where earlier Walker’s falsetto may have come off as a bit strange, if not jarring, he wields it with expert skill on the amazing “2 Eyes 2 C,” as soulful and moving a song as you’re going to hear that uses the phrase “dinosaur Jesus.” And closer “Loose Change” takes a meditative piano ballad and halfway through injects a bit of funk and a group singalong, the kind of drinking-with-my-friends display of big-hearted camaraderie that eventually erupts in a round of applause.
It may very well be Suckers’ goal to give the appearance of being agents provocateurs-that brain photo just might do the trick, come to think of it. But their music tells a different story. Wild Smile isn’t the work of agitators but a foursome of endlessly creative Brooklynites with a keen ear for melody and a tasteful penchant for the dramatic. Surpassing the promise displayed on their debut EP, Suckers’ first album is indie rock done right.
MP3: “A Mind I Knew”
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.