Moving and Grooving

Who says indie-rockers can’t swing?

It’s fairly difficult for any indie rock band to swing with any credible authenticity—perhaps the genre’s innate bookishness prevents its players from getting the rhythm just right. Still, many a liberal arts college student has delved into the bins of his local used record store and discovered a love for the hip-thrusting rhythms of the early days of rock ’n’ roll. Then he’ll turn around and try to capture the same feel with his own band—usually with little success.

But two recent releases have us questioning the notion that the indie set can’t swing. One is by The Gossip, who play rock ’n’ roll stripped to its barest essentials: one guitar, a set of drums, and a large-lunged, beehive-coifed frontwoman. The trio’s howl and shake is well represented on their debut full-length, That’s Not What I Heard, released earlier this year by Kill Rock Stars. The two instruments keep everything simple—the guitar often plays one-string riffs while the drums pound every beat. The lack of a bass hardly even registers, thanks to the impressive voice of singer Beth. At times, her voice resembles that of Glenn Danzig—a punk rock Elvis if there ever was one. Alternately howling and whispering, she belts out songs with an undeniable enthusiasm.

The album plays like The Gossip’s live set, jumping from one song to the next with little pause. “Hott Date” and “Bones” stand out for their loud-soft dynamics, while the double-shot of “Got Body If You Want It” and “Where the Girls Are” is propelled by guitarist Nathan’s blues-riffing and Beth’s urgent vocals. The subject matter is almost exclusively sex, which is absolutely appropriate for The Gossip’s blues-charged rock. The 14 songs don’t even take up 25 minutes; more than one repeat of the chorus is rare. And that’s good for the band. Their music is greatly limited by their instrumentation, so it’s to their benefit that they don’t attempt anything longer.

This band should not be missed live, where the similarity of their songs just keeps bodies moving. The record is a great capture of that sound, but it’s not one that will sustain repeated listenings. After a while, the songs start to blur together. But for fun, hip-shakin’ rock ’n’ roll, one could do much worse.

The Causey Way are a different type of band, to say the least. They insist they’re some sort of religious revivalists, and they play it so straight that you might start to believe them. But calling the songs on their new release Causey vs. Everything “hymns” (as they do) is more than a little misleading. The brief tunes have more energy than a month of Sundays. Part of the fun of this group is that the 10 members (who trade off playing on various songs) all go by pseudonyms: They’re led by “Causey” and include Red Causey, Dr. St. Causey, Boy Causey (a.k.a. “Brian” of Man or Astroman?), The Truth, The Button, and Summer Phoenix.

One might suspect the sounds of 10 collaborators would be a little disjointed, but the only evidence of the band’s collectivism is in the rotating lineup of singers. “Te Como Vivo,” the first track on the record, is an impassioned introduction. It starts off with simple, slow piano but soon pulses with synthesizers and a tight bass/drums rhythm. Neither cold nor alien like so much synthesizer-driven music, the song is warm and welcoming. It doesn’t hurt that the husky, feminine, Spanish voice—belonging, we can only assume, to The Truth—is amazingly sexy.

“Te Como Vivo” sets the tone for the rest of the album. As with The Gossip, the heart of The Causey Way’s sound lies in their palpable passion. They believe so much in what they’re doing that, like any good missionaries (or con men), they’re able to convince their audience to believe as well. Smack-dab in the middle of the record, the one-two punch of “Ana Caelo” and “Take Your Chances” should convert what few agnostics are still listening. The simple keyboards and Casio drumbeat of “Ana Caelo” allow The Truth to wrap her low female voice around the speakers. And “Take Your Chances” takes great advantage of the different timbres of the singers’ voices: “Don’t chance it, don’t chance it,” The Truth cautions alluringly, while Causey counters with hyper shouts, “Take your chances, take your chances!”

With its shout-along vocals, the sonic blast of “U.F.O.” closes the album (not counting the “hidden track,” an answering-machine message from Wesley Willis) and makes for the perfect climax.

If for no other reason than the fact that these two groups believe they can swing, twist, and bump with the best of them, we should pay attention to them. The disenfranchised wallflowers of yesterday’s indie scene may be the life of tonight’s party.

This piece appeared in the Nashville Scene