Definitely Band by Curling is an album that NEEDS to be listened to multiple times. It only reveals itself with familiarity. There is a beating heart under its art-school pretensions, but even then there is a sense that you will never fully understand it, either. The first time I heard it I walked away utterly confused. “How the fuck am I going to criticize something like this?” Even after many hours with it I still don’t know if I’m qualified. What this means is that even if you don’t like what you hear it will be hard not to admire its uniqueness and sense of play. It is undeniably a glorious mess.
Curling is largely the bizarre brainchild of Jojo Brandel and Bernie Gelman (although MANY other musicians help out). They seem to relish in challenging their audience. There is a lot of experimentation with song structure, especially in the first six songs. As soon as they have hooked you in with a big juicy chorus, they refuse to return to it. It’s oh so gleefully mischievous! You want to hum along, but they just won’t let you! It’s almost as if they are too restless to repeat one chorus over and over again. It’s disorienting at first, but it’s a neat trick because it makes you want to go back and hear the track again.
Then as a reward for indulging them, the guys bust out four extremely catchy and emotional power-pop showstoppers. Brandel and Gelman’s guitar work is both breathtaking and messy, almost as if the songs are ready to be crushed under their own weight. The mood of these songs evokes the struggle between bright blue optimism and soul-wrenching pessimism. Musically, they seem to be paying homage to Big Star’s Radio City. “Radio King” is probably the best representation of this. It’s like “September Girls” slightly weirder cousin. This four-song run actually brings tears to my eyes, which is all the more extraordinary considering that I was initially ready to write these guys off as slapdash lunatics. Instead, these wonderful weirdo’s hit me right in the feels.
That’s not to say that Definitely Band is a flawless experiment. Truthfully you’re bound to experience stylistic whiplash at one point during your listen. Any record that shoehorns in a jazzy saxophone solo (“Bloom”) or has an entire song in Japanese (“Four”) is going to run the risk of lacking in cohesion. Admittedly that IS part of this album’s appeal. The first half’s eccentricities are what makes the second half’s life-affirming universality stand out. The part where it loses me a bit is in the lyrics. Brandel’s perpetual (but oftentimes appropriate) whine carries the emotional beats… but what the hell is he singing about?!
His words are head-scratch inducing and work WAY better with the more out there material, so when he practically invites us to sing along on the grand finale “Mallow,” it’s damn near impossible! Lines like “Incinerate like favour/ expand and disassociate/ elevate like vapour/ learn to discorporate” sound like they are coming from a robot who’s trying his darnedest to make a human connection. It’s not that the lyrics are necessarily bad on their own, they just don’t fit with the tone of their more poppy material. Because of instances like this, there are some who will NOT like this album but I strongly urge you to give it a chance. There is so much to admire and love about it! These guys weren’t content with making something more conventional and bless them for that. Definitely Band may not be perfect, but it certainly isn’t boring either.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson