Winners of indie-rock’s most puzzling name, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY) once dazzled critics with their quiet, lo-fi pop. Seemingly contradictory to the pretentiousness of their wordy name, the group’s first release, “Broom,” was an unpolished, intimate, and charmingly simple collection of effortlessly catchy and noticeably poignant songs. This is what made their sophomore release, “Pershing,” so irritating. The record was not terrible, but the glossier and sunnier sound made the once craftily brooding band seem painfully one-dimensional.
For their third album, “Let It Sway,” SSLYBY relinquished the production duties to Chris Walla, esteemed guitarist and producer for indie-darlings Death Cab for Cutie. Unfortunately, Walla opts for the over-produced, squeaky-clean sound that suffocated Death Cab’s latest work. This further distances the album from the intimate atmosphere of “Broom,” and replaces any trace of the group’s best work with all too obvious sing-along chants.
“Back in the Saddle” begins the album with lo-fi, echoing vocals and quiet piano, only to break out into a simple, repetitive chord progression and chorus of “woahs.” The song is not as catchy as previous openers “Glue Girls” and “Pangea” and, lacks the commercial appeal that it so obviously strives for. Simply, it is a bland pop track. “Sink/Let It Sway” follows with more energy, but does not do much to separate itself from the substandard opener.
Many of the album’s songs are not far from being successful, though. Robotic “da da da” chants mar the otherwise catchy “Banned (By the Man),” while “All Hail Dracula!,” despite its electrified instrumentals, is weighed down by cheesy lyrics: “All hail Dracula […] I’ll let you suck my blood if you want to know how I taste.” The pieces for addictive pop gems are scattered throughout the album, but rarely shine in unison, making “Let It Sway” a frustrating listen.
The album’s shining moment comes at the very end, when the band’s best pieces finally come to fruition in one excellent track. “Made to Last” is reminiscent of Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys) during his “Pet Sounds” era. The song has a California-style breeziness that is also filled with longing, melancholy, and nostalgia, repeating helplessly, “nothing is made to last these days.” The sullen remark is sung again and again before closing the album, but it does not become repetitive. Ironically, “Made to Last” becomes the song you do not want to end on an album that seems far too long, despite its approximate 40 minute duration.
Outside of its shining closer, “Let It Sway” is nothing but a disappointment. The band has potential: they have slick instrumentals, a marketable crooner, and a proclivity for catchy choruses. However, they are pursuing a seemingly ill-advised aesthetic, aiming for grandeur when their simplicity is what originally earned them acclaim. When the group gets back to basics, they may end up with more “love” than their Russian friend—and maybe even the marketability they are looking for.
Kevin Stevens can be reached at email@example.com.