April 7, 2011

The Downer Party – Cities EP

The Downer Party
Cities EP
Self-Released; 2011

Typically, women who try to make a career in rock music have a wide variety of modifiers attached to them, and most of them have to deal with how physically appealing their voices make them sound. It could be the growl of an Allison Mossheart, the coo of a Jenny Lewis, or the bell voice of a Neko Case (and let’s set aside discussions the Katy Perry and Lady Gaga types in the pop world), but there’s something vaguely chauvinistic about even the most innocuous reviews of albums by female artists. I guess we could just chalk it up to the fact that most music critics are heterosexual male nerds.

Hence, what I found most appealing about the Cities EP from The Downer Party is that the lead vocals of Sierra Frost don’t lend themselves to such safe, familiar comparisons. Instead, Ms. Frost fronts a quartet that’s penned a batch of clever, clean, and crisp indie-pop tunes that call to mind ‘90s college rock and emo with ‘60s girl-group flashes. Though the group is from San Francisco, this is Midwestern jangle-pop at its finest, calling to mind Lisa Loeb singing for a peppy blend of The Promise Ring and The Anniversary, with some early Spoon thrown in for good measure.

Simply put, it’s the great band chemistry at the heart of excellent cuts like “Country Kids,” “Chicago,” and the title track that powers this project. The traditional guitars-bass-drums setup is tight (with the guitar work deserving its own special shout-out), and there’s a host on ancillary instrumentation (synth, autoharp, whistles, noisemakers, etc.) providing the necessary quirks to the classic pop formulas. Furthermore, the orderly, fresh-faced production aesthetic makes for a pleasant, engaging listening experience.

In other words, yes, The Downer Party has a woman with an appealing voice at the helm, but she places herself firmly within the band context so that you have to take the music at face value. Thus, despite an inventive band name that doesn’t quite lend itself to describing the album’s upbeat pop tropes, the Cities EP comes across as a sharp five-song effort laden with good hooks and nice energy. Please leave your stereotypes and ready-made associations at the door.

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