#5. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Let It Sway
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin hit the spot like Mom’s home-cooking: No gimmicks, no frills; simply good ingredients and classic recipes, made with love. And for every posh, hip, see-and-be-seen bistro that pops up in the gentrified corners of the city, one of Mom’s traditional standards will always be more comforting and more satisfying.
So no, SSLYBY are not a “mind-blowing” type of band in the sense that they’re not going to wow you on first listen with something you’ve never heard before (you know, like whale noises through auto-tune or drums midi-triggered with a Nintendo Power Pad). But, you know, it’s often those kind of devices that entice immediately and then age quickly on the shelf, whereas substantial music that is well-crafted and well-informed tends to mature with every listen.
That’s not to say that music with substance has to be serious or somber, or even particularly deep. There’s ample room for fun, and even some cheekiness, and SSLYBY are strangers to neither. The name of the band, though conceived while singer/mult-instrumentalist Phil Dickey and lead guitarist Will Knauer were still in high school, isn’t especially juvenile in it’s humor. Rather, it playfully marries a personal and sympathetic sentiment with the oft-caricatured persona of an inefficacious and thus infamous world leader. The band’s subtle goofiness can be found elsewhere, like this poster, which features Dickey, Knauer, and singer/guitarist John Cardwell in assorted space garb set in front of a celestial backdrop, or their song “Cardinal Rules”, a tribute to Springfield, MO’s AA baseball affiliate. And then there’s the name of their debut album, entitled simply: Broom.
SSLYBY isn’t really an overtly jocular band, nor do their whimsical tendencies towards humor really bleed into their lyrical content or musical arrangements. There are no slide whistles or opening verses where a guy walks into a bar. But that doesn’t stop them from taking “Back In The Saddle”, the sublimely anthemic opening track off of last year’s Let It Sway, and marrying it to the performance imagery of another, more high-profile act with a song of the same name. Surprisingly, the video mash-up hijinks don’t entirely sabotage the emotional weight of the song, as it carries the type of emotional heft that you would expect from a song used to underscore an amalgam of concert footage in a “career retrospective” sort of way. If it was footage from SSLYBY’s own live performances, assembled in the year 2014, then it would stir up a swell of emotion much like Blur’s use of “The Universal” did in their trailer for the No Distance Left To Run documentary. Instead, we get Steven Tyler’s incessant hip-thrusting and crotch-grabbing.
There’s something refreshing about a band that is good enough to warrant self-aggrandization, but instead diffuses any indulgences by not taking anything too seriously. You could say that SSLYBY’s charm has as much to do with their earnestness as it does their insouciance. As stated before, there are no wheel-reinventions on Let It Sway, but the album is replete with perfectly rounded, sound and sturdy circles and spokes. After “Back In The Saddle“‘s fist-pumping strains of “We’re comin’ around \ Up from the ground \ Straight to your heart now \ from my mouth”, the band launches into the Joe Jackson power-pop stomp of “Sink/Let It Sway”, witch Cardwell intoning “Head low but you gotta Let It Sway \ No miracle gonna happen when you feel that way \ Bent up but you gotta let it sway \ No firecracker in the dark gonna light your way”.
Tracks 3 and 4 continue the solid wallop of the album’s front-end. The Southern-fried riffage of “Banned (By the Man)” adds girth the to song’s deliberate pace, as Cardwell pulls a chorus melody out of Dan Fogelberg’s back-catalog and injects it with grit and vitality, singing “How many days will it take ‘til you know the plan? \ And how many suns will pass before you understand?”. “In Pairs” employs a rumbling bass and warm Rhodes over a measured drum trot, with Dickey reminding in eighth-note cadence, “Not all of God’s creatures come in pairs, you know”, before switching to the triplet over quarter-note verve of “All my years, all my life \ Oh, my God \ All my life, on my ears \ Like a knife.” Climbing up to falsetto, he softly reveals, “All of my life it was you.”
Other album highlights include the intuitive pop turns of “Everlyn”, a song that falls squarely in line with the best work from power-pop veterans The New Pornographers and Sloan. The 3/4 power-chord peppered balladry of “Phantomwise” would slide seamlessly into Pinkerton-era Weezer. “All Hail Dracula!” recalls the early, raw pop aspirations of mid-90’s Irish punk exports Ash, while “Critical Drain” saddles the band’s frustration with the redundancy of lazy music criticism onto a giddy-up shuffle, with Cardwell wryly offering “Nothin’ ever changes; ‘Is that really your name? \ What’s it mean, what’s the context, could you explain?’ \ I don’t mean to be an asshole, I don’t mean to complain \ But is that all we’ve given ya?”
Maybe the band still struggles with the aftermath of their initial rise to blogosphere stardom on the inaugural bubble of blogger hype, with the lingering effects of post-burst write-off haunting their every review, but it would seem that even with a few barbs planted “Critical Drain”, the band is content putting their money where there music is. After all, even if music critics still see them as the silly band with the silly name that only gained notoriety by way of novelty and online hyperventilation, SSLYBY can take solace in the fact that their ever-growing fanbase knows exactly why they love the band: Their refreshing brand of carefree and pretense-free indie pop, soaked in tradition and steeped in a love for what they do, with enough maturity thrown into the mix to ensure that they don’t take any of it too seriously.