A Party in Motion, the new EP from San Francisco collective Still Flyin’, lays bare their inner tension. Not that a band like Still Flyin’ is supposed to have any tension at all. Tension is the opposite of what they are supposed to be about. Case in point: They purportedly regard Matthew McConaughey, the aw-shucks, empty-headed, beach yoga-ing, naked-bongo-playing, weed-smoking star of all your least favorite movies (and one you probably liked when you were 15) as a lifestyle role model. He is the ur-laid-back bro; he is everything Still Flyin’ is all about.
And yet, is this really what they’re all about? If you were somehow able to mute the lyrics on basically any Still Flyin’ record, to totally tune out the voice of Masters of the Hemisphere alum and band creator Sean Rawls, you wouldn’t think about chilling out, or being bros or eating pizza or slapping high fives or any of the nonsense Rawls likes to talk about in interviews. You’d think you were hearing fascinating and pretty damn satisfying instrumental rock indebted to Neu! and Can and later post-rock groups like Tortoise. These are deeply engrossing tracks that are obviously made by musicians who know what they’re doing. In fact, the band’s rotating lineup is something of a home for retired indie superstars, including alumns from ‘90s and ‘00s indie stalwarts like the Lucksmiths, the Aislers Set, Dear Nora, Ladybug Transistor, and more.
The music on this EP’s two standout tracks, “Bull Riff” and “Higher Than Five,” is a perfect example. “Bull Riff” is an especially Neu!-y exercise in assembling simple repeating musical elements into a complex but never perplexing musical work. It’s music that alternately commands your attention and sets your mind floating free, perfect for writing a term paper or enjoying some more natural, McConaughey-y pursuits.”Higher Than Five,” built on a nodding bass line, tom-tom hits, and some gently flowing brass notes, eventually builds to an almost irresistable party anthem.
Ah, but remember that this is without Rawls’ lyrics, a mix of clumsy childhood-evoking, ‘80s pop-references, and peans to dudehood that make MGMT look like E. E. Cummings. They’re annoying, quite frankly, and they distract from what’s going on around him. I often found myself wishing he’d shut up so I could hear the music.
In fairness to Rawls, it is hard to write lyrics for truly complex and constantly-evolving instrumental rock like that on A Party In Motion. That’s why most bands who make it — Neu!, Ponytail, Fang Island, on and on — don’t even try. You don’t need to. If Rawls dialed the words back and just wailed on the guitar, his band would be a lot better for it.