by Josh Taylor
Imagine being at an indie/rock show at a trendy Los Angeles venue. Then, all of a sudden, everything flashes back to the ‘90s. This is what I first thought as I listened to The Spies’ newest release Televolution. What better mix could you get than that? As a huge ‘90s music fan, and equally being a fan of the current indie/rock scene, this band reminds me of why I started listening to music in the first place. Honest lyrics, catchy hooks, and an overall good time. Televolution is the furthest thing from the sophomore slump that most bands worry about during their second album release. It is a quality album with one great song after the next.
The Los Angeles-based quartet was initially a collaboration between two Philadelphia friends, Leo Francis and Mark Matkevich. Francis had moved to LA in hopes of becoming the next big musician and Matkevich, like most that move to the City of Angels, got into acting. Francis and Matkevich eventually got back into the studio to work on Francis’ solo album, which solidified the idea of forming a band together. Later they added Adrian Barrio and Dylan Giagni to complete The Spies’ lineup.
Televolution is the band’s follow-up to the 2007 release of Old Ghosts. With ten solid tracks, there is not much room for disappointment. The album opens with a booming piano and a pounding kick drum, followed by a unique bass line and captivating guitars. The band is well aware of how to keep the listener’s attention track after track.
The album’s title track, “Televolution”, is an interesting song. With lyrics like “Let’s start a revolution baby, and take off this disguise, let’s get with evolution baby and it really isn’t much of a surprise,” and “the revolution will be televised, televolution.” Despite the conventional rhyming, the band has more of a message than typical Los Angeles indie-rockers.
“National Pastime” is probably the highlight of the band’s album. It has a Wallflowers-meets-John Mellencamp feel. It could have easily been the theme song to any WB show from the ‘90s and even a current CW sitcom. Speaking of WB sitcoms, does anyone remember Dawson’s Creek? The Spies’s vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Mark Matkevich had a small part on the show (Drue Valentine anyone?) This is the song that the suits would consider “the radio hit.” I myself will agree with that. I can already hear it on the radio.
Having a catchy chorus is key if you are going to get anywhere near radio today. This was in the back of the band’s mind when they recorded “Radio Caller”. By simply repeating the word “miscommunication” the band has you singing along by the second chorus. I do love sing-alongs.
“You’ve Got Some Nerve” serves as the albums mid-point. The song has quite a groove to it, which you can easily imagine being played in a smoky bar scene in the next big-budget Hollywood movie. This song has dual vocals that really complement each other well in the chorus and throughout the remainder of the track.
Another one of my favorites off the album is “Paper Trail”. This song has the perfect balance of guitars throughout the song and the vocals are convincing. The backing vocals are also a strong part to the bridge. It talks about the blue-collared life, the blandness of working a 9-5, and having the same boring day over and over; it is the feeling like you’ve accomplished close to nothing. One of my favorite lines is, “The hand is dealt so place your bets, with whiskey mouth and cigarettes. The paper trail is running out, I’m a working man.”
The Spies have a tightly concise sound that can that can only be explained by hours of practice and years of dedication. Francis and Matkevich display their vocals across the album together in a perfect blend of harmonies and overall accompaniment of one another. Dylan Giagni is a seasoned drummer who uses unique fills to give each song the overall fullness it needs to make this album a professional release, and not your ordinary DIY demo. Bassist Adrian Barrio is also not new to the music world. You can tell from his bass lines that he does not lack in originality or talent, for that matter. The keys make for a nice background; they help guide the song through without stealing the limelight, similar to how Coldplay incorporates the instrument into their sound.
The closing track on Televolution, “It Comes in Waves”, is the perfect ending to an impressive album. The build-up to the first verse sets a great atmosphere around the song. The tone of the keys and the melody used throughout the verses is one of my favorite portions. Giagni’s drums sound like a marching band, with crashing cymbals and thumping drum hits. “You aren’t the only one, it comes in waves.” These are the lyrics that replay throughout the song to reiterate the song’s overall theme.
With five years of playing together under their belts, it is no mystery why the The Spies’ sound is so tight and consistent. With the release of Televolution, this band should have no problem taking the Los Angeles music scene by storm and attracting a few A&R reps to their shows. Well, if they even exist these days.
RIYL: Spoon, White Rabbits, Wilco, New Pornographers, Menomena, Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, Cold War Kids, TV on the Radio, The Hold Steady, Arcade Fire, Tapes n’ Tapes, Built to Spill, Dr. Dog, The Black Keys, Okkervil River, Free Energy, The Thermals, Rogue Wave