The Selfish Gene
While the creation of music appears to be the most vivid hobby among the four members of The Selfish Gene, the study of classic literature is not far behind. Apart from the fact that their band name name is derived from the title of the controversial evolutionary book by Richard Dawkins, the four-piece from Wisconsin have also incorporated elements of classic literature into their actual songs. “So It Goes”, a song on their 2005 debut album, Self-Defeating Human Beings, is a nod to the memorable literary style of the late Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five. From novels regarding scientific philosophy to classic works of literature surrounding themes of war and anguish, The Selfish Gene appear to be remarkably well-read. Even so, their integration of artisicism is only one aspect of their impressive presentation.
Revolving around four friends who, for the most part, met at the University of Wisconsin in 1998, The Selfish Gene are taking the expected path by improving on the sound of their debut. Their sophomore album, The Grand Masquerade, is a continuation of a sound that has become fairly typical in the vein of modern indie artists. It was released this past May. By supplementing a fondness for traditional 60s pop with a handful of contemporary production techniques, The Selfish Gene have drawn commonplace comparisons to Spoon and The French Kicks. I suppose that the guitar-based techniques utilized by The Selfish Gene have the same strum-stop patterns of earlier Spoon but that is hardly enough for me to merit an accurate comparison. The vocals of Matthew Allen appear too contumacious for such a contrast, often sounding intentionally discordant over a backing display of keys, guitars, and swollen percussion. If anything, Allen reminds me quite a bit of a poor man’s version of Beulah’s Miles Kurosky. Allen uses the best of his abilities to transform songs that are instrumentally repetitive into memorable works that are memorably dependent on strong vocal melodies.
The Grand Masquerade is an album surrounded in a cloud of stylistic consistency. The Selfish Gene have captured a style that their minimal fan base seems to adore and they implement that to craft a generally pleasing sophomore effort. The concise and jumpy electric pop songs like “Overboard” and the fantastic single “Autopilot” are scattered in numerous amounts throughout the album, with a few acoustic songs like “Idioum” and “Wonderfall” hitting the right spots for artistic diversity. While no track reaches the great heights of the utterly irresistible “Autopilot”, some efforts like “Overboard” and “Fist Fed Up” do the album some justice. Typically led by the keys of synths of Michael Weber, “Fist Fed Up” plays with a breezy piano melody backed by the strain of a distorted guitar. “Autopilot” should make my Beulah comparison appear more evident, being somewhat reminiscent of “Landslide Baby” and other gems on Yoko. While they lack the strings and brass that Beulah executed so well, The Selfish Gene plays the role of successfully traditional pop songwriters quite well.
While The Grand Masquerade suffers from the occasional pointless fillers like “Bidding War” and “Bad About It”, the seven or eight songs that do hit the right spot are mainly worth the time and effort for fans of predictably easy-going indie rock.