2011; Frenchkiss Records; Pittsburgh, PA
Seven odd years ago when I first downloaded The Shins’ “Chutes Too Narrow” from Limewire (and subsequently launched my first flat-out band mania) I never imagined that via the internet I would one day interact so flippantly, so casually, with one of my favorite bands. The whole Antlers thing felt so run of the mill, so banal, that in retrospect, it was almost boring- that’s not how the prospect of meeting and greeting my idols used to feel. When I think about just how normal and how boring the whole thing really was, I feel a very palpable malaise, and I’ve since lapsed into a spell of cynicism with regards to the pop music, and the popstar-killing blog culture that surrounds and defines it.
Putting aside the distress that this whole phenomenon has caused me (and the difficulty of reconciling the Antler’s extraordinary music with the reality of their overwhelmingly ordinary lives) it’s worth saying that it was in this very turntable.fm chatroom that I first encountered 1,2,3’s absolutely infectious single “Confetti.” And so I promptly opened a new tab, and quickly discovered two things: a name like 1,2,3 is infuriatingly “un-googlable” and 1,2,3’s “New Heaven” is a deliberate, cohesive, more-than-impressive debut LP that has me convinced of band’s talent. In my mind, good pop music should do a number of things: it should establish a new, unique voice that’s at once recognizable but inimitable, it should be simple enough to hook you within a listen or two but complex enough to take on a new character with each new listen, and it should have lyrical focus and depth that’s at once nuanced and general. 1,2,3 hits the mark on all counts.
Let’s not pretend for the sake of “journalistic integrity” that I didn’t glance over several reviews of “New Heaven” before sitting down to write this piece- especially today, when online critical outlets posses the eminent ability to make a band likable (more so, arguably, than bands posses themselves) critical reception is fair game for criticism. Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen writes of “New Heaven” “it's pure populism down to their lyrical concerns: girls, drinking, or being broke as fuck…” The drinking, the girls, the poverty- it’s all there, but its not as general, or as trendy sounding as Cohen would have you believe. It all feels real- everything on “New Heaven” rings true, as Snyder’s lyrical style deftly blends a gentle wit with keen observation, a bit of paranoia, a fear of stagnation and finally, cautious optimism. Most importantly, the record’s lyrics convey a clear and direct sense of uncertainty that lucidly elaborates the paradoxes of blog-pop, and displays an understanding of personal insignificance that is rarely- rarely- coupled with such satisfying pop music. At its best, the lyrical style of “New Heaven” seems to articulate exactly how it feels to be both a mostly unknown musician, and a bored, confused kid. The nuance of the lyrics, which require a bit of effort to pick out (especially because none of 1,2,3’s lyrics are available online [a rare thing, these days]) will not be lost on any aspiring musicians.
And that’s just the thing- the ears to which New Heaven will probably find its way, will largely belong, I predict, to aspiring pop musicians and/or critcs- it’s funny, but doesn’t it feel like that’s the way it goes these days? As pop music become easier and easier to make, produce and share, the people who really enjoy pop music are making it themselves, and sharing it, and for the most part its not half bad. So as the internet democratizes the sharing process, records like “New Heaven” seem to get lost in the noise; but it feels like 1,2,3 realizes all of this, and accepts it, and as a result, the record is infused with a knowing sadness, a kind of heavy shrug, that’s truly surprising and delightful. I count New Heaven among the best LPs of 2011 so far.