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Posted May 30, 2009 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

Alligators, Piggies, and Cups

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From crocodiles to woodpigeons, I have featured a surprising number of bands that resort to their animalistic side for their namesake. Many of us have, at one point, come across the Discovery Channel to learn something that shocks us about animals. Whether it involves mating rituals or hibernation, there are certain behavioral characteristics in animals that make the human race seem dull in comparison. Perhaps this can explain why so many artists opt for an animalistic connection, one that makes their appearance seem more enigmatic and naturally inclined than the human species. Or perhaps it can be deployed in a symbolic manner, like the recently featured Bowerbirds. Unbeknownst to me before I wrote about them, the male bowerbird holds a colorful object in its beak to attract females during mating season. As it turns out, they do so to compensate for their lack of coloring, adorning their bowers with dead insects and other objects to distinguish themselves from the females. We can all agree that this tidbit is interesting, but how does it relate to an indie-rock band? For Bowerbirds, their style of instrumentation valued quality over quantity; the sparse amount of instruments was compensated for by arrangements brimming with passion, authenticity, and irresistible hooks. The group collected influences and ideas and wore them on their sleeves. Like the bird in their namesake, this distinction attracted an audience and distinguished them from their contemporaries.

For our next animal feature, we turn to a reptile with a reputation of being particularly rowdy. Who could it be kids? If you guessed Alligators, you are correct! Like Bowerbirds, this Seattle-based quintet takes pride in their name, even if the comparison to the scaly reptile is more ambiguous than that of a comparison to a bowerbird. Alligators claim that the animal in their namesake “have a peculiar mystique surrounding their existence”, citing the band’s own small-town upbringing as an example of a band that has risen out of ambiguity to hopefully conquer the nation’s attention span. Since their days in the local music scene of the greater Bremerton area in Washington, the five members in Alligators have been slowly climbing to the top. Longtime friends and collaborators, most of them were professionally trained in music and they all encompass a similar range of musical influences. They all mention Radiohead, the Beach Boys, and the Zombies most prominently, which is quite apt considering their sound borders between melodic experimentation and accessible pop. It is very typical of contemporary indie-rock, but their songwriting and ambitious song structures make their debut album, Piggy and Cups, something to get excited over.

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The songs on Piggy and Cups vary in their introductory stages, ranging anywhere from the lush acoustical balladry of “If You Want To” to the rushing guitars of “Original Fear”. Regardless of where these efforts start though, they tend to almost always unfold into something highly excitable and genuinely enthralling. That may lead some to assume that Alligators are simply a continuation of the long line of generic indie-rockers that linger today, but even one listen to a creatively diverse song like “Original Fear” should calm those qualms. Joshua Trembley begins the track with vocals that appear more subdued than usual, only to introduce the listener to a falsetto-like range that coincides with increased intricacy in the guitar progressions and rhythm section. When Trembley proclaims, “When I woke up to the light of day,” the meatiest section of the track occurs, and boy is it good. The flashback to ‘90s alt-rock here is prominent, and the song’s conclusion with roaring guitars and coo-ing backing vocals is even better. Trembley demonstrates such intense emotion throughout this gem, perhaps taking away the spotlight from some great performances and intensely excelling songwriting. Repeated listens will solidify this song’s success though, and other gems on the album will be enjoyed similarly. The flow of Piggy and Cups is something that continues to impress me after a few listens; each song flows into one another more cohesively than most indie-rock groups these days, and for a group as ambitious as Alligators that is certainly an important skill to have.

Although I find too many of the songs on Piggy and Cups to contain too much structural diversity to become radio staples, there is no denying that a patient listener will surely be rewarded by the debut. It is a shame when actual intricacy and focus hinders an artist’s potential for recognition, so Piggy and Cups is yet another remarkable indie-rock debut that may be too diverse for its own commercialized good. The album’s opener and one of the more accessible efforts, “Where Does It Hide”, opens simplistically enough with linear guitar progressions and very ‘90s-like reverbed vocals, paving the way to a one-dimensional chorus that depends on halted guitars and vocal quips. However, both the verse and chorus merely end up serving as an introduction for greater things to come. After about two minutes though, we find the group resorting to electronic pop in a fashion that resembles a more wound-up Maroon 5. We find a bit of ‘70s pop present here, just like in the ending minutes of “Mama, Stop” where various vocal tracks collide to create something serene and expressive in accordance to the backing guitars. It seems that most tracks on Piggy and Cups open up with something accessible in order to prepare listeners for greater things to come, introducing anything from tinges of electro-soul to country-pop after that. After any given track on Piggy and Cups exceeds the two-minute mark, one can expect to hear a flurry of hooks and outstanding performances that provide Alligators with a lasting impression that seems more than suitable for a grand accomplishment in the vein of Piggy and Cups.

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Alligators – Original Fear

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Alligators – If You Want To

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Alligators – Where Does It Hide

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].