It’s easy to hate The Submarines. The Los Angeles duo’s airy, yellow-bellied indie-pop is undemanding to say the least – fluttering between gentle acoustic balladry and shimmering, vocal-heavy electro-pop. Each guise in their gentle range is sour-note free, and built to sell handheld electronics (which of course, they did.) Of course that doesn’t change the fact that, despite all the straight-shooting glamour, the songwriting anchors of John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard can craft some beautiful (if a tad interchangeable) lover’s pop. Love Notes/Letter Bombs has a remarkable number of highlights – enough to force the world to look past the polished, parents-pleasing sheen or inevitable car commercials, and admire the delicate sublimity of the hooks.
As is easily inferred from that kitschy title, Love Notes/Letter Bombs is the germ of a breakup album – misplaced love and dying affection are both reoccurring themes, with Hazard admits in a soft, elevated coo. But she’s able to turn her traditional lyrical quips into some interesting ways; “why can’t you love me the same way” is a fairly standard pop motif, but with that “it’s not the first time I’ve heard you say” before, it sounds almost sinister. Of course, there’s plenty of “tied to a broken parachute /it’s the hole in my heart we fell through” and “We’re in love and it feels so right!” but there’s certainly more at stake here than, say, on a She & Him record. The Submarines color in these familiar tropes with a personal wit, which like real life, is sometimes scary and outside the lines – with no clear distinction between protagonist and antagonist.
The Submarines are at their best when toying with charmed synth-pop – the fuzzy Nintendo loops of songs like “Fire,” and “Tigers” sound like stripped down Postal Service covers, matching the Give Up gold standard in sugar and tempered glumness. But the most important thing on the record is the character of Blake Hazard, her voice has a magnetizing texture that transcends the literal mountains of similar female leads. Her wailing, somewhat desperate performance on “The Sun Shines at Night” is probably the most binding – in what is essentially a youthful, summery ode to a fleeting relationship it’s surprisingly easy to find reasons to root for her. She is the reason The Submarines have persisted and transcended hordes of bands embracing the same lucrative touchstones.