"Gentleman," PSY's follow-up to "Gangnam Style," has already made history.
The charm of Brooklyn duo Coasting's debut, You're Never Going Back, is largely the same as the charm of an early White Stripes record: It's not terribly hard to believe it was made by two people. Make no mistake, that's a compliment: Were indie rock its own island nation, Minutemen's credo of simplicity and Emersonian self-reliance "We Jam Econo" would be stitched proudly on the flag. So, in a moment when every bedroom recording artist can GarageBand her own backing Polyphonic Spree into existence, there's something refreshing about a band like, say, Japandroids, whose music sounds like a sonic tribute to the camaraderie of the flesh-and-blood, guitar-and-drums duo. Coasting's crash-pop-meets-surf-rock works like this too: combining rumbling riffage; hyperactive, cymbal-heavy drumming; and fervent, back-and-forth vocals into a classic D.I.Y. sound. This isn't minimalism, exactly: It's the joyful sound of two people trying to make as much noise as they possibly can.
Those two people are guitarist Madison Farmer and drummer Fiona Campbell, a New Zealand transplant who's also been drumming with Vivian Girls for a little over a year. Over the first few tracks of You're Never Going Back at least, Farmer and Campbell create irresistibly shambolic tunes ("Starts and Stays", "Portland") that escalate in breathless energy as they creep toward the three-minute mark. "Kids" starts unassumingly, in a steady blizzard of cymbals and power chords before it picks up with the intensity of a couple of kids running down a steep hill, hollering double dares all the way down: Pick up the tempo! Play louder! Sing "Ohhhh!" Louder still! As in Campbell's other band, echoes of girl-group melodies poke through the grit, as though plucked from fuzzy memories. The feeling is reminiscent of Kicking Giant's 1990s cult classic Alien ID: Its emotional climax is the sound of imperfect, warbling voices imploring, with more volume and punch each time, "Be my/ Be my baby.”
Up until now, Coasting have lived largely in the world of 7"s. The problem with their debut album is one that's befallen countless perfectly good indie bands before them: They don't have enough ideas to fill a whole LP. You're Never Going Back definitely boasts their best standalone tracks, but after a while, the limitations of their sound become apparent. The energy lags in the record's middle section, over a stretch of samey-sounding, mid-tempo numbers. Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffin's production keeps things simple and thus captures the freewheeling spirit of the band's live performance, but by the fourth mid-tempo, quiet-loud-quiet jam, you get to wishing for an experimental streak-- or at least another pedal.
This might not be a problem for you. There's something inherently affable about Coasting's sound, which has the grimy, big-hearted spirit of an early K Records release. And if you're predisposed to liking garage rock or music that extols the virtues of all things handmade (check that punk rock cross-stitch on the album cover), you are not likely to hold Coasting's lack of sonic variety or next-big-thing ambition against them. This year, though, I'm feeling extra critical, still under the moment-defining spell of tUnE-yArDs' w h o k i l l. That record sounds nothing like You're Never Going Back, but it affirmed something important-- that a record can be brimming with ideas and unabashedly huge, and yet still sound unmistakably handmade. Like a lot of the classics in the indie rock canon, w h o k i l l stands as a provocative D.I.Y. challenge: You can do more with your bare hands and your own voice than you ever dreamed. (No, this idea isn't new; even the dudes who said, "We Jam Econo," made a record with 45 songs on it.) "I've seen the future and it's perfectly all right," Farmer sings with muted pathos on the album's last track, a bittersweet ballad called "Delusions of Grandeur". Those aren't always such bad things.