My Sunday afternoon with the Selmanaires:
I had planned to spend the weekend doing some Christmas shopping, but the biggest snowstorm to hit Montreal in thirty years - a walloping forty-one centimeters (that's sixteen inches if you ain't down with the metric system) -forced me to scrap those plans. The prospect of trudging through snow up to my knees gave me a mild anxiety attack. Instead I curled up with my iPod and listened to Here Come the Selmanaires, the debut from an Atlanta trio that my esteemed Prefix colleague Austin L. Ray has been raving about for months. Here's how the afternoon played out:
2:37 p.m.: Sit down in front of the fireplace and press play. Opener "Selmanaire Rock" has a funky, bass-heavy extended intro. Not really high-tempo enough to get down to, but it's a nice solid groove. This sounds promising.
2:38 p.m.: The vocals kick in, and my jaw drops. Frontman Herb Harris sounds like he forgot his testicles at home, with the high-pitched whispers he emits. That could take some getting used to. This doesn't bode well for the album's rating. Austin will be pissed.
3:01 p.m.: I'm seven songs in, and it looks like the band threw me a curve ball. Turns out the Selmanaires aren't a funk-rock band with a testicle-lacking lead singer. The opener's laid-back groove is still flittering around the edges of the sound, but the band resembles a cross between Kinks hooks and Devo swagger. As for Harris, he's decided to drop a few octaves, for the most part, which was wise. Seems he's able to switch up his technique on demand. Whether the song calls for harmonizing or choppy energetic delivery, Harris pulls it off. Maybe Austin isn't as crazy as he looks.
3:10 p.m.: "Turns to Stone" ends with an explosion of drums and guitar licks, and apparently so does the album, because I'm staring at my iPod's menu screen. The album clocks in at a little more than thirty minutes, and it would have been nice if the Selmanaires had stuck around a bit longer. What the hell is a Selmanaire anyway? I resolve to find out later.
8:32 p.m.: I've listened to the album four more times, armed with the knowledge that the band name is derived from Selman Street, which was where the band's first practice space was. I've concluded that the band is at its best when the sound sits firmly on the fence between strut and songcraft. Pretty pop songs are well and good, but they're a dime a dozen, just as swagger without the goods behind it is merely self-importance. It's a yin and yang kind of deal, and on the few occasions the band leans too much to one side, the results suffer. The Selmanaires get it right for the most part, though. There are far worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.
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