The first thing you notice on the Standard’s new album Albatross is Jay Clarke’s keyboards framed by driving guitar and bass. It is most likely because of this that the band receives so many comparisons to piano-driven band Spoon. Sure, there are similarities, and more can be found to other referenced bands such as the Shins, but there is a swagger and surety to their music which sets them apart from other indie bands. Tim Putnam’s voice is easily the most confident, clear, and cocksure since Michael Hutchence. With a sound that is not so easy to nail down, a polished epic style not heard since U2’s The Unforgettable Fire and a dark drama running throughout, the Standard are anything but.
“Play the Part” begins with Rob Duncan’s loud rhythmic drums, sounding like something off one of Peter Gabriel’s solo albums when he was in his prime. Jay Clarke’s keyboards mimic that of some of Simple Minds’ most dramatic music (a la Once Upon a Time), while Putnam wavers between Hutchence, Ian McCulloch, and Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol. Clarke studied classical piano and on songs like “How Deep to Cut,” those studies pay off in a big way, as he drowns the music in a somber coat, transcending mere pop, and ending up in someplace unidentifiable by modern radio.
Albatross is the album of my dreams. How a band has managed to capture so much of what I loved about the epic sounds of 1985 and combine them with today’s indie rock vibe is beyond me, but I have ceased to question and started to merely revel in its majesty. This album is all about a band who has hit their stride. When something is firing on all cylinders, it is a thing of beauty to behold. Each instrumentalist holds a singular key which, when all turn at once, like some kind of missile silo exercise, takes the band from subtle rhythms to epic bombast, such as in the overpowering keyboards and handclaps in the song “Not Asleep.”
The Standard create music you have to pay attention to. Whether you turn up your stereo at home extremely loud, or you wear ear insulating headphones, the Standard reward concentration. The instruments are tight, the vocals are clear and understood, and the recording is crisp. Who says indie has to be lo-fi? Jeff Saltzman, who also helmed the Killers’ Hot Fuss, seems to be on the verge of becoming a star producer. Let’s hope that he can garner the attention that came the Killers’ way as the Standard’s Albatross is an extremely strong album with consistently great songs throughout. Also, others have mentioned it, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out one of the best album covers of the year.