And now for the music from the other side of the East River.
Far from the discordant garage rock’s seering guitars and drum machines of the 7-1-8 sound, the palindromic 2-1-2 sound of the Upper East Side brings to mind that other fair palindrome — pop. Wearing many of their influences on their sleeves, brothers Max and Julian Tepper and drummer Derek Vockins, who comprise the Natural History based in New York City, have put out a solid debut pop record on Brooklyn’s Startime International. Though Beat Beat Heartbeat would have been received as dynamic in late-’70s England, it is now highly derivative … which is not to say it’s not enjoyable.
The alarm call of an urgent guitar opens Beat Beat Heartbeat Max Tepper’s distinct vocals, a swinging Costello croon with just a touch of the nasal graininess of Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. Though distinct, the vocals are endearing, with witty turns of phrase such as “beat beat heartbeat … not slow or fast/ but please beat in a four, four time” punctuated by an equally self-conscious bass line. The unique pacing featured on the record, particularly on “Beat Beat,” further emphasizes the pleasingly odd quality of the vocals. The second track, “Watch This House,” by far one of the strongest tracks, climaxes complete with high-hat builds and a break from the bass line mirroring the drum beat. It’s also easily one of the shortest, with only two brief verses bisected by a huge chorus in well under two minutes.
A plaintive bass line of the beginning of “Broken Language” is the backdrop (ironically) for one of the album’s most lyrically strong tracks. “The first of the year, resolutions surround/ the ink not yet dry, the pen not put down,” sings Tepper, a descriptive interplay of the disconnect between verbal and written acts. The tautness of the rhythm section adds a sturdy foundation to the swings and breaks his voice is prone to. The almost ‘hootenanny’ quality of the final track, “Dance Steps,” is created by the rhythm section disintegrating (in a good way) in its own momentum, developing a drone and allowing the vocals to slide into an unhindered howl, while the chorus remains a bluesy snarl.
With only two of the eleven tracks clocking in at over three minutes, the boys know not to overstay their welcome and leave the kids hungry for that catchy pop. The songs, upon several listens, ingratiate themselves into your day, revealing under the cursory influences of the latter Elvis and Kinksian guitar lines a blues tradition that the vocally inclined Tepper modernizes successfully. Unfortunately, with songs so short, as soon as the record starts to pick up momentum, it’s over.