by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Column 277: A modest proposal…
An unbiased review of It’s True’s debut album.
Here was the problem: Everyone knows somebody in It’s True, and very likely is friends with that person.
Maybe it’s affable keyboard player Kyle Houfek, the veteran of a thousand bands (or at least a few). Or frontman Adam Hawkins, who seemingly greets everyone with a warm miss-me? hug (Yeah, he’s one of those). And then there’s bass player Kyle Harvey, the George Washington of the Benson music scene whose bartending gig at The Barley Street Tavern — including “soup and song” night every Monday — has kept the place alive. Not to mention good-guys guitarist Andrew Bailie and drummer Matt Arbeiter.
So everyone knows someone in It’s True, especially the tiny circle of local music “critics.” And everyone knows that everyone knows someone in It’s True. Which brings up the question: Can anyone write a review of the band’s debut full-length and have it be considered unbiased? Even me — the tell-it-like-it-is a-hole who is merely tolerated (and certainly not loved) has been accused of being a homer for It’s True. When I didn’t make it out to their CD release show at the end of April, someone affiliated with the venue asked where I had been. “Of all people, you should have been there. You’re the band’s biggest supporter.” I am? I’ve never even interviewed the full band before — only Hawkins way back in February ’09 when It’s True was really still a solo-acoustic project.
To be honest, people who know my writing know that I don’t play favorites or pull punches for anyone. But still, there would be those who would read a positive review as favoritism, or a pan as a despirate reach for credibility (“He’s only saying it’s shitty because he wants people to think he’s unbiased“).
It was a quandary both for the band and local music journalism in general, but I had this idea: Have someone from outside of our scene write the review, someone who never even heard of the band (which, quite frankly, would be just about anyone outside of Omaha as the band isn’t on a record label and has only done a couple brief tours).
So, early in June, I did a little research with the help of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies website to find a newspaper somewhere in the country with similar demographics as The Reader. I quickly discovered Flagpole Magazine, “everybody’s book on what to do in Athens, GA.” The publication’s verified circulation as of March 2009 was 14,825, very near The Reader‘s unverified 18,500 (as of Dec. 2008). But more importantly, the paper covered Athens — home of R.E.M., Pylon and the B52’s — it’s a town renowned for its music scene.
With a target in site, I sent an e-mail titled “A modest proposal from a fellow alt newspaper,” that explained the situation and simply asked if anyone on the staff would be willing to review the new CD by It’s True. “The review would run word-for-word — fully attributed to the author — as part of my column,” I wrote. And yes, I would even pay for it.
The next day, Flagpole Music Editor Michelle Gilzenrat replied, saying she would reach out to her writers. Critic David Fitzgerald took the challenge. He’s written reviews of CDs by Gorillaz, Titus Andronics, The Black Keys and Tobacco, and will have an interview with Mates of State in the next issue.
So I sent Fitzgerald my one and only copy of the disc. And despite being buried under his own deadlines, I promptly received his draft this past Tuesday. Here it is, uncut, unedited, in its entirety:
IT’S TRUE, self-titled (self-released) — Hello Omaha, thanks for having me! Writing from Athens, Georgia, and charged with the task of crafting an objective review of a band that everyone in Omaha apparently loves, I am glad to say that IT’S TRUE! have a really nice thing going. Something tells me that lead singer Adam Hawkins has heard enough Ben Gibbard comparisons to last him several lifetimes, but, and I intend no pun here, it’s true. Hawkins’s silky smooth vocals, bathed in warm, chiming guitar and summer-y synths, took me back to the early aughts in the best possible way, and while the vaguely emo, indie pop strains of The Postal Service, The Shins, and my hometown’s own Andy LeMaster were never far from my mind, IT’S TRUE! have created a truly lovely record that can stand proudly beside its peers. The opening track, “Take This One from Me,” is a Beach Boys-inflected, dream pop gem that acts as the initial push to this swaying, seaside hammock of an album. The biggest intrusion into an otherwise light and wistful collection of songs is the bluesy, two-chord lament “What Have I Done,” which revels in the power of a smartly rendered refrain, without straying too far from the album’s breezy, radio-friendly aesthetic. Closer “I Think It’s Best (If I Leave)” serves as a near-perfect bookend, striking a melancholy tone that suggests a downward slant to the record as a whole, without letting it slide into legitimately depressing territory. All in all, these guys aren’t doing anything terribly original, but they’re confident, talented performers keeping a particularly accessible brand of indie rock alive, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s true. — David Fitzgerald
Bravo, Mr. Fitzgerald. I couldn’t have said it better myself. With that out of the way, I will add just these two cents: The CD is the best local release so far this year. And I’m not just saying that…
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Speaking of It’s True, the band is playing tonight at Slowdown Jr. with our old friends from Ames Iowa, Poison Control Center, and Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship. $8, 9 p.m.
Also tonight, The Young Veins open a show at The Waiting Room for Rooney, along with Black Gold. Rooney is fronted by Robert Schwartzman, the brother of actor Jason Schwartzman (and an actor himself, having appeared in The Virgin Suicides, among other films). Formerly on Geffen, the band is now self-releasing its material. They fancy their style as “brit-pop,” which seems wrong (more like an American Franz Ferdinand). Openers The Young Veins have a very obvious “Please Please Me”-era Beatles sound that is endearing in its nostalgia. Their latest, Take a Vacation, came out on One Haven Music, but their PR is being handled by Press Here (seems anymore, your publicist is more important than your label). $15, 9 p.m.
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Tomorrow: An interview with Son of 76 and The Watchmen.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
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