The Little Ones - Lovers Who Uncover
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
When I first heard it, I was properly embarrassed by how much I dug the Little Ones’ “Lovers Who Uncover.” So I ignored it for a good long while but for furtive visits in the small hours of the morning while the wife was sleeping. It seemed simply too, well, obvious to play in polite company. Or perhaps too darned cute: Ed Reyes’ is nigh-on featureless, even more unreadable than + / -‘s sphinx act. The double guitar riff establishes itself fast enough to be called crass in the wrong circles, and deliciously cheap by the squares. A born guilty pleasure, I thought. Best not to tell anyone.
But no guilty pleasure worthy of the name stays under wraps for long, and before long I found myself unanoraked watching the band playing a twenty minute hit-and-run show, hoping not to meet the eye of anyone I recognized. Blessedly, their live show brings out all the song’s best elements, most especially the chipmunk echolalia “Yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah” refrain delivered with èlan by the rocksteady bassist.
You see, in the seduction of the full frontal guitar action, I originally lost sight of the cosmic alignment of the bassline. While the melody follows a meandering downhill course—a bright-limned spring creek, if you will—the bassline is striving for higher ground—a randy, rainbow-tinted salmon of uncertain longevity. The bridge toys with an oddly carnivalesque theme while the singer indulges in nostalgia for a moment that sounds neither distant nor all that memorable. When Reyes sings, “Their faces are green and they don’t know what they’ve done,” it sounds like both displacement and wishful thinking, which is exactly what nostalgia is like.
Even better, and despite their youth and small size, the Little Ones are sage enough to know what to do when you have a riff that’s this addictive, which is to say they give you an immediate brush with withdrawal, pulling everything but the rhythm section and squeezing you-the-listener between a McCartney-worthy bassline and a politely raucous and detuned all-in “Hey! Hey! Hey-oh!” shoutalong. It’s a glorious, scrappy, faintly ridiculous moment, like an impromptu dance-fight; it is exactly what people are getting at when they complain that Neon Bible is lacking in humor and/or grit. All but excised from the radio edit, it lasts only twelve bars, as long as a traditional guitar solo, of which there is none here. It is a musical approximation of the memory of being in a boys-only gang, of belonging and fist-waving.
So that when the verse comes back, the scrubbed vocals are filigreed with denial and something genuinely like regret, making a poignant sense of the rest of the song: the overkill of the single note kiddy-keyboard stabs that answer the warbling “Oh nooooo” coda. It is a rather neat trick of arranging: deploying just the right amount of chaos and overstuffing to situate the Little Ones as a latter-noughties indie act without forcibly breaking out the hackneyed french horns or svelte violin player. The rest of the song merely reprises themes in a victory lap that would be redundant were it not for the simplistic pleasure of being in on the secret sloppiness at the heart of such a smoothly delivered track, like getting away with being the only one already drunk at a polite party.