By: Eric Greenwood
The Natural History's raw, angular rock might seem suspect amidst the flurry of Strokes and White Stripes copycats popping up out of nowhere these days, but just chalk it up to coincidence because, apart from the band's recording aesthetic, there's truly little in the way of direct mimicry. Recorded in just two days, this five-song debut EP oozes with spontaneity, vitality, and, most importantly, hooks, even though it lacks a fundamental sense of originality.
Obvious reference points are harder to pin down than you'd expect after one listen. There's a hint of the aggression and brashness of early Elvis Costello, but guitarist/vocalist Max Tepper's voice is huskier and recalls more so The Clash's Joe Strummer. The music funnels power-pop sensibilities through a post-punk ethos, as though the band tried to interpret The Knack through the eyes of, say, Wire. The result is surprisingly gloomy and left of center. Tepper stretches his scruffy vocal melodies languidly across his band's discordant, off-kilter progressions.
Nothing here will bowl you over fresh out of the box. These songs have to sneak up on you before they take hold. "Telling Lies Will Get You Nowhere" has an odd showtunes-meets-garage-rock feel. Clanging guitars battle the jaunty bass line in the chorus, while Tepper strains his voice to hit the sing-songy notes. Rough around the edges, musically, The Natural History doesn't let small unorthodoxies hinder its growth. "The Progress Chart" is a bit catchier rhythmically, although Tepper does his best to keep the up-beat spirit at bay with odd chord choices.
"So He'll Say" incorporates a hint of the post-hardcore DC sound embodied by so many of the early 90's Dischord bands, but by maintaining a dark, minimal edge, the song never actually snaps out of its weirdly somber mood. In other words, the rock is muzzled. The staccato, no frills build-up of "The Right Hand" is similar in its approach to that of Gern Blandsten's Computer Cougar. "Broken Language" finally plays the Gang OF Four card that's been lurking in the background throughout this EP. Who's not a fan of white bread syncopated angular funk, anyway?