Born With Stripes will not be Wire magazine’s album of the year. Nor will it be heralded as the antidote to post-millennial techno-dread. Born With Stripes is not the figurehead of any subversive underground movement, but it is a fine indie rock record, which suits me just dandy.
See, styles - such as indie rock’n’roll - that rarely bother to adapt and evolve don’t get on my wick like they do on some people's. A lot of things never really change - at least, the change is too slow for most anyone to enjoy progress, and maybe there’s not all that much to be done about it. So generation upon generation devises tricky new pursuits by which to redefine its pitiful existence, via minor social revolt and what have you. Yet today we’re back where we started, wearing slogan t-shirts and ’Save Our Libraries’ stickers and quite often marching our arses off while everyone else tuts and groans and frets to one another about ’anarchy’, in an ill-tempered Post Office queue which they’ll shortly be paying per minute to stand in. And on a more personal level, if your old Pa married an actress, slunk off with a trollop and spent his autumn years drinking away the post-pussy blues, then however plucky you’re feeling come 24, the odds are you’ll be cutting a forlorn figure on that lonely bar stool 30 years down the line. So maybe the best way to go about reclaiming some semblance of dignity from this tawdry cycle is to get down to its own terms, soon as your legs can give out underneath you.
Like The Donkeys did, when they decided to start playing tunes like their dads were most probably spinning back in the day. I like that; there’s some romanticism in their snug adoption of those musical tropes, and I’m glad they’re not manipulating woodland sounds and releasing on limited run C90, ’cause that’s not what rock’n’roll folk are about. And sure, there are more contemporary influences to be found hiding in nooks and crannies (Pavement, Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse, Spoon, Deer Tick, all that crowd), but each element is stripped of any hint of studiousness. Born With Stripes is a springy, psych-rocking compendium of dust-coated Sixties radio highway hits, booming out a convertible Chevy as it cruises across the AZ/CA border.
Much like a larksome cross country road trip, there is the odd occasion where you wish it would hurry up and get to its destination. ’Kaleidoscope’ is a drag of a psych meander, which, four minutes in, will have you wishing it gave up five minutes ago, and when it suddenly cuts out after what seems like a lifetime of “Jupiter’s on the right”s (eh?), you’d be forgiven for failing to disguise a sigh of relief.
But the delightful marginally outweighs the dull. Opener ’Don’t Know Who We Are' in particular strikes a mellow chord while creating the impression it really doesn’t care whether you’re listening or not. “I’m a cartoon, you’re a book”, says singing drummer Sam Sprague, in a sort of self-deprecating under-the-covers lovesong/lullaby, over a curious, loping guitar line - before smoothly slipping a casual “Give it to me now” in before the chorus strikes. ’I Like The Way You Walk’ picks up the pace a little, repping some inherently piffly lyrical sentiment - “I like the way that you talk / And all the things that you do / You do like honeydew / Those bees are all round you” - that rings honest and sweet, rather than grating.
If you were one of those to be found chinwagging about Lost during fag breaks the last few years, you might recognise The Donkeys as fictional Seventies rockers Geronimo Jackson. (You see, they wanted you to think Geronimo Jackson had some big significance to the storyline, but it was actually just a few California chancers about to see more royalty dollar than the accumulative sales of their debut album hauled in....) It wouldn’t require a great stretch of the imagination to accept that The Donkeys are reformed old hands from that bygone era, and they play the part like purely professional method actors, with frequent success.
Just another chilled, spaghetti western-atmospheric SoCal indie rock venture then? Glad to hear it, keep ’em coming.
7Jazz Monroe's Score