You’re going to hear a whole lot of talk about how Brooklyn’s Robbers on High Street completely rips off Spoon. You’ll hear about it in the same way we learned how Interpol equals Joy Division times Echo and the Bunnymen, the same way we learned how the Rapture would be nothing without Gang of Four and Wire. These arguments are often founded in indie-rock one-upmanship and too many hours buried in The Wire, but there’s a casual disregard for the fact that most musicians are perfectly aware of their influences and will readily divulge them. The late great Pavement bit off the Fall all over their undoubtedly significant Slanted and Enchanted and absolutely agreed with any critical poop flung toward them regarding that fact.
That said, I bet my annual Prefix salary that Robbers singer Ben Trekan’s favorite record of 2002 was Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight. This is in no way a crack against his band’s credibility; it’s a leap in a fantastic direction. Tree City’s kinship to the tone and rhythm of Kill the Moonlight should open to a further audience the sound Britt Daniel nailed in ’02 — which was, let us remember, when everyone else in Brooklyn was picking up Casios on eBay and making their riffs just a little more angular.
Yes, the band does rob and pillage Spoon’s catalogue. But the four-piece also has a knack for Daniel’s own influences. They raid many of the Kinks’s finer piano tunes, too. One highlight is “Bring on the Terror,” which teeters close to the baby-grand pop of “Susannah’s Still Alive” from Something Else. Shadows of Elvis Costello’s melodies, the keyboard energy of the Walkmen, and the dexterity of many other lovelorn, jaded and outstanding pop songwriters shine throughout the album.
This debut isn’t perfect. Redundancy becomes a problem quickly, and the Robbers scarcely avoid writing the same song thirteen times. But they do sequence the tracks well. The guitar-driven “Love Underground” is found around the halfway point, and the ballad “Montifiore” closes the record, providing a divergent comedown. For all its focus of influence, Tree City is an exciting debut. It’s easy to forget that Daniel put out a few albums before perfectly looting the pop goldmine. On Tree City’s “Japanese Girls,” when Trekan sings, “I know what I want/ I know I can get it/ I take what I want/ …if it’s there,” he may as well be winking. And he probably is.