Do you like Guided By Voices, Joan as Policewoman, Luna, the Pernice Brothers, Shudder to Think, or Nada Surf? Well, if you do, members of those bands appear on the eponymous debut of Gramercy Arms. But that doesn’t mean you’ll like the music. The record is about as pure as pop can get—some Byrdsy/Gram Parsons guitar accents, sweet Brian Wilson harmonies, an easy tempo, and about forty pounds of sunshine in every song. It’s a 1970s AM radio dream—like the band America, but sans corny lyrics. If you listen close, you’ll hear Joan Wasser (the Policewoman) in the background on “Automatic,” comedian Sarah Silverman on “Looking At the Sun,” and many others, like Lloyd Cole and members of Elk City and a great, too-quickly-gone band, Eve’s Plum.
Unlike other famous indie collective/supergroups (Broken Social Scene; New Pornographers, e.g.), Gramercy Arms isn’t trying to rule the world. Or even change it. Rather than creating an artistic work comparable to the work of their host bands, this collective just got together to make some great pop. Kind of like an indie Travelling Willburys. In my view, it works better when a vast array of talented folks focus on something simple—BSS never really worked for me, because few of the songs gelled. Here, the musicians all work together well, and the remarkable thing is, they’re doing original compositions.
If your curiosity isn’t piqued by the thought of talented folks making happy music (particularly the usually melancholy Joe Pernice), then this definitely is not an album for you. But if you’re looking for a half an hour of joy, check it out.
Appropriate Bonus Covers: