Gold-Bears: Playing on Prefix

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Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week.

Nobody wants to grab a beer with the dude who penned the line “in this dark room/in this bed/when you hold me like this/I feel so secure” (that’d be the Field Mice’s Robert Wratten).

With his Gold-Bears project, Atlanta’s Jeremy Underwood and his bandmates have taken an admirable–and successful–shot at restoring some semblance of relatability to a field of folks generally too lovesick to see past their own barrettes.

Their debut album, Are You Falling in Love?, has all the hallmarks of conventional twee/noise pop: it came out via Slumerland Records, for one thing, and it’s entirely guitar centered–with those guitars either ringing noisily or chiming mournfully.

It’s Underwood’s voice, though, that saves this thing from the dollar bins that don’t even exist anymore. In stark contrast to the neutered mewl of labelmates (and severe sophomore slumpers) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Underwood’s voice brings to mind the high-pitched, everyday yearning of Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan.

On songs like “Beside You“, it sounds like an altogether more reasonable man went back and replaced the vocals on the sweetest Secret Shine 7” he could find. (That might explain why that song starts off with the line “remember that night in 1993.” That’s the only year directly referenced on this album, by the way. 1993.)

Further distinguishing Gold-Bears from their peers is the fact that they actually acknowledge the existence of sex. Fine, it might be in the context of the line “last night after sex I was lying awake in bed with fifty sugar plums dancing around my head,” but still, at least this guy doesn’t view holding hands as the height of human physicality.

The music manages the same trick as the lyrics: it sounds realistically sweet, as opposed to cloyingly so. Lead single “Record Store” is a distorted ode to a woman who saved Underwood’s life “in the backdoor of a crowded record store,” and it builds and builds into an unexpected climax in which the song basically doubles itself, providing the kind of rush that Pains’ horribly mixed mess failed to deliver. If you’re still looking for your summer’s serving of proudly derivative indie rock, you have found it.

–By Daniel Kolitz