| DRESSED FOR SUCCESS: Derby’s Nat Johnson (center) and ’mates. |
IMAGE: Alexis Achten
[POP] Scholars of Russian literature and reluctant biology students alike will tell you translation is a serious bitch. It’s no different for musicians: Rendering the melodies in your head with Pro Tools is akin to making Anna Karenina work in English.
It’s here that local pop trio Derby struggles on its sophomore release, Posters Fade. The title (according to the press release) is meant to remind listeners that though the hype of an album may fade like sun-soaked concert posters on a telephone pole, its musical substance should continue to shine. But however ostentatious its press, Derby is a straightforward, three-piece pop band writing agreeable (reiterable choruses, simple verses, pay-off bridges) but unremarkable tunes. So why is it producing grandiose albums that sound like they should’ve been on MTV a decade ago?
As the shining melodies on Posters Fade attest, Derby at least has the right idea. Frontman Nat Johnson has undoubtedly studied the best songwriters, even if he has some room to grow lyrically (on “Don’t Feed the Bear” he lazily anthropomorphizes love as a biting bear). But much of the album is buried in bland production; the abundance of harmonies, for instance, makes it hard to ascertain what Johnson’s voice really sounds like. And where he often intends “Yesterday,” he sounds instead like Lenny Kravitz Sings the Beatles. More often than not, Derby subtracts the grit that could set its sound apart. Take pub-rock tune “Stop Stalling,” with its punchy-crunchy guitars: It operates like a suburban tennis clinic—with just enough balls to keep everyone appeased.
The band does exhibit some growth on Posters, though. “All or Nothing” harkens to the most rockable of Teenage Fanclub; the hand claps and breezy, finger-picked guitars of “If Ever There’s a Reason” contrast nicely with Johnson’s early Beta Band vocals; and “Stumps” is a beautiful testament to the seldom-acknowledged importance of “Eleanor Rigby.” But the album’s so often punctuated by ignorable filler that it becomes a paradox: How do such tight individual pop songs form such a lackluster whole? Guess making run-of-the-mill pop interesting—like translating Anna Karenina—is tough to do.
HEAR IT: Posters Fade sees national release Tuesday, June 17.