A minute and a half into Death Cab for Cutie’s second album, the band — after teasing us with the same hazy, lo-fi sound they’d perfected on their last release — abruptly launches into the full-bodied pop they’d spend the rest of their career bringing into sharper focus. Let it Sway, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s third release, was co-produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, and it begins with a similar trick. Album opener “Back in the Saddle” picks up where Pershing’s final track left off: all sweetly strummed acoustic guitars and hushed vocals. That is, until they drop the acoustic-balladry act, bring in the electric guitars, and launch into their very own version of the pop suite, replete with twangy passages and a math-rock influenced, welcome-to-our-album outro. It’s a welcome surprise, and the most exciting track of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s brief career.
Brief, though, is something of a misnomer, here. As the adorable promo video for this album reveals, the Midwestern boys have actually been making music together for 10 years now. Meaning it was roughly halfway through their career — 2005, to be exact — that they abruptly became blog superstars, and roughly 6/10ths through it that the tastemakers abandoned them in favor of more experimental fare.
What people happen to be listening to, though, holds very little weight with Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. “This is for us, not them,” croons frontman Philip Dickey, on the pretty, plaintive, and kind of boring “Stuart Gets Lost Dans le Metro.” The closest these guys come to the zeitgeist on this record is a song about vampires — yet the exuberant pop of that track would have no place on one of the uber-meaningfulTwilight soundtracks.
Rather, the band plays a long out-of-fashion style of power-pop, this time with a newfound inventiveness and a subtle sprinkle or two of experimentation. The synths on the Pinkerton-ian “Phantomwise” sound almost revelatory in this context; ditto the Cure-esque guitar tone on “Animalkind,” which transforms that track into an instant highlight. Yet these imaginative flourishes are few and far between, and Let it Sway could definitely have benefited from more of them.
Lyrically, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin proves adept at vague pop nonsense (“Pretty girls just don’t park where they want to…”), and on songs like “Banned” and “Phantomwise,” Dickey sings his lines like Pinkerton-era Rivers Cuomo after getting laid: still adolescent and anxious, but a little less edgy. A little less edgy, in fact, defines a lot of this record. Where Broom talked about getting high and drunk and sad with your friends, and Pershing featured lines about sacrificing getting drunk for getting some, here Dickey mostly talks about, well, nothing too significant. This band’s M.O. has always been its lack of cool, but here they occasionally sound sort of lame — as when Dickey repeatedly sings “Not all of god’s creatures come in pairs, you know!” with a weird sort of mock angst. It all feels a little too safe.
But the album’s lyrical shortcomings are easy to overlook, especially when most of its best parts occur when the words drop away entirely and the crisp handclaps come in. It’s that sort of giddy, emotional, inarticulate pop that Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin does best, and Walla does his part in bringing that side of them out. Yet for all his high profile clout, Walla doesn’t make Let it Sway a significantly more interesting record than Pershing. “Nothing’s made to last these days,” Dickey sings on the album’s closing track, and you have to wonder when the capable Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin will make something that does.