B | 02.14.12 | OLD FLAME | MP3
“Television,” perhaps the best song on the debut album from You Won’t, is anchored by a simple stomp-clap beat, driven by about 8 soulful piano chords, and reassuring vocals. “It always ends the same,” the band tells us, and true to its word, each verse ends with this “old refrain.” The minimalist beauty of “Television,” a song made for sing-along gatherings around a bonfire, is definitive of Skeptic Goodbye, a strong debut album from a duo that often thrives – and occasionally suffers – from its raw, simplistic approach.
It’s a rule of mine to avoid too many comparisons in a review, but it’s almost impossible with You Won’t. Much of the album feels heavily influenced by a number of recent artists, but fortunately, it never feels like a rip-off. Opening track “Three Car Garage” has the rickety drums found throughout Local Natives’ debut, and lead singer Josh Arnoudse’s voice vaguely resembles that of vocalists from The Shins, The Kooks, and The Morning Benders.
You Won’t is able to draw on its influences and create an album that is new and unique, clearly proving they are more than just another catchy folk-pop bedroom project. In fact, the album is at its best when it deviates from the band’s primary, acoustic sound – most notably with the crunching, classic-rocking guitar bounce of “Dance Moves” (reminiscent of Free Energy), and the unexpected beat drop of “Ten Years Old.” “The drop,” which we have already described in detail here, magnificently throws blaring horns and a hip-hop drum beat behind an otherwise ordinary twinkling piano.
Despite the album’s experimentation and variety of instrumentation (Raky Sastri is credited not only with playing the drums, but also the harmonium, accordion, bowed mandolin and “modified coffee can”), You Won’t certainly has its wheelhouse; its go-to move. Joining “Three Car Garage” and “Television” as a ready-made bonfire sing-along is the sunny “Who Knew,” a memorable, clap-along track that tries to beat you over the head with cuteness – and succeeds: “If I was, Marty McFly, I would go back to when we were nine – or ten, and I’d be your best friend.”
Unfortunately, the album loses some momentum after “Who Knew,” when three slower, reflective acoustic tracks are strung together. While simplicity is a virtue for songs like “Television,” the music here is perhaps too simple – still nice, and fine as background music, but nothing special, nothing that rises above an average singer-songwriter acoustic album. Skeptic Goodbye is at its best when the songs are upbeat and peppy.
The album closes with “Remember When” and “Realize,” two more songs that don’t reach the height of Skeptic Goodbye’s best stuff. And yet, they have that extra something that makes You Won’t different – consistently great melodies, a personal, intimate feel (in the case of the haunting, percussion-less “Remember When”), and a well-placed, subtle build that closes out the album (on “Realize”). “It’s a hard road to ride,” Arnoudse sings, “when you sit back and realize.” As various instruments swirl around his voice, gently growing until they fade back out, “Realize,” along with Skeptic Goodbye as a whole, certainly sounds like a band sitting back and starting to realize its potential.