So us kids who learned about rock music from Jem and the Holograms and never knew a world without MTV are all growed up and in/reviewing bands on our own. Little wonder there’s been an increased influx of `80s inspired music lately. Out of Baton Rouge, La., a place known more for its sweltering summers and corrupt politicians than its indie pop, comes We Landed on the Moon!, a grammar-check defying group that melds `80s synth with new wave palm mutes and relentlessly poppy guitar riffs designed after `90s indie rockers like Superchunk.
The glossy mix comes out sounding like a lot of the bands that soundtrack the DRAMA!!! on The Hills, complete with very pretty female vocals singing about heartbreak. (I’ve always been confused by this choice, as I don’t see Lauren Conrad and Co. actually listening to that kind of music. Wait, did I just admit to having seen an episode or three of The Hills? Shit).
In this case, it’s front woman Melissa Eccles crooning above the din. These Little Wars, the band’s second album, is a record about the tensions within relationships, though Eccles sings with the knowledge that these troubles don’t add up to a hill in the beans in the grand scheme. In the opener, she sings literally from above it all: “Looking at pictures from airplanes / I wish the seats would fall right through the floor / And I wish that you would see it too.”
Those vocals are We Landed on the Moon!’s most distinguishing characteristic. The ladies have made great strides in artistic recognition over the years, but it’s still somewhat arresting to hear a woman’s voice leading a genuine rock band. Eccles can occasionally sound too polished, like Kate Winslet’s American accent, but she has an unmistakably sweet and clear voice that fits the band’s sheen.
Having a chick singer undoubtedly earns We Landed on the Moon! lazy comparisons to Rilo Kiley. (Who was the go-to comparison for all female fronted bands before Jenny Lewis and The Kiley? Hole? The Pretenders? The Shaggs?) Nonetheless, WLotM! is similar to Rilo Kiley’s poppier fare, but a closer gender-specific comparison would be that they’re a more muscular Mates of States, or a more talented Rainer Maria. The band also shares a chromosome or two with The Killers and Ra Ra Riot’s less Arcade Firey side.
These Little Wars may as well have been produced by a bottle of Pledge it’s so polished, and that brightness and shine ultimately dilutes the band’s strong individual performances (Eccles, Jon Kolich on guitar, John Lambremont on guitar and keys and Josh Nee and Spencer Johnson on bass and drums). The album’s centerpiece “Happy Accidents” should be a tour de force, with its insistent piano and drums that build slowly into a stadium anthem, but listening to it feels like watching lightning on television: It’s bright and exciting, but you’re too safe to get a charge.
On the following song, a manic rocker called “Re: Your Letter,” the band cuts loose. Eccles’ vocals may sound a little forced and the pretty guitar licks are gone, but the group sure sounds like they’re having a lot of fun. More of this would really rev up the Fraggle Rock Fan Club 20th anniversary dance party.
The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site
Nightmare of You – Nightmare of You
Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line