One of Read Yellow’s songs begins with the line “I get high whenever I’m around you baby” yelped earnestly and forcefully within a simple blues-based melody. Real simple — you could easily imagine, say, Chuck Berry or Elvis in their respective primes belting out those exact same words in the exact same melody. Importing such basic tunes straight from the pre-rock ’40s or dawn-of-rock ’50s is nothing new; those tunes are what rock music is, after all. What makes this case of rock ‘n’ roll thievery so interesting is the straightforwardness of the lyric itself, right up to the “baby.” Elvis and Chuck aren’t singing those words: it’s 2003, and some indie-rock four-piece formed at the University of Massachusetts is delivering that line over a sonic bed of nails — rusty distortion, piercing percussion. The line might not be as exciting in this context, but it is cool in a pop-eats-itself way, kinda like that sonnet about the joys of writing sonnets.
It’s also the best moment on Read Yellow’s nifty self-titled debut EP. It’s relieving and encouraging to listen to a loud, aggressive rock band that manages to get by on smarts and personality. (Personality is here defined as anything that isn’t boring.) “Fashion Fatale,” the song containing the aforementioned first line, fields that kickoff and runs with it full speed downhill toward a big-drum head-bobber of a chorus. The fetching and frantic “Static” builds from a grunt-basic riff (which the EP is full of) to a rousing multi-vocalist guitar noise thing with opaque lyrics.
Sounds a lot like At the Drive-In’s loud guitars and opaque lyrics and personality; in fact, Read Yellow’s “The Association” is practically an ATDI homage. Which is fine by me: At the Drive-In was a great band, and a great band to gank style from. Besides, if you value originality so much, rock ‘n’ roll may be the wrong place to look. Read Yellow’s primary-color primitivism and expertly deployed influences make for fun, simple songs. Enjoy them.