Brass City Band
The Gentlemen's Recording Co.
f you want to sell records right now, you take a sound people are familiar with and tweak it so that it's a little friendlier (Green Day, Nickelback, Franz Ferdinand). If you want to the critics drooling over you, take a well-known form and push its boundaries a little—roughen it up, define the barrier you've crossed (Deerhoof, Animal Collective). If you want to get people sweaty and fired up, don't mess with form at all. Just take rock 'n' roll, play it hard, and the people will come.
Well, none of that's exactly true. Boston's the Gentlemen don't exactly have every public meal interrupted by autograph seekers, but that fact only reflects publicity and reach. If, by some cosmic fluke, the quartet opened for the Rolling Stones during their recent East Coast swing, they'd be selling records to that Jagger/Richards 12-65 demographic. With good reason: the Gentlemen (named for frontman Mike Gent and not any sort of placid demeanor) must not have listened to anything but classic rock for their entire musical lives. They don't sound limited in their sound—they just sound home.
Coming after a long delay, Brass City Band contains the sound of many of the group's ancestors. "Flame for Hire" and "Watchdogs" could be on the new Stones album; "Creeping Secrets" could fit onto several of Elvis Costello's albums, from Armed Forces to The Delivery Man. You can also find some boogie, some roots, and even a little soul. The Gentlemen aren't looking to break new ground—they just want to rock.
You might think you can turn your mind off for this, but be careful—they might show up on a future SAT question. If you see "_____________ are to rock 'n' roll as the New Pornographers are to power pop," you'll know what to answer. I suspect the group would feel at home being a test answer, because, for all the references in their music, the Gentlemen write smart songs. "Hit That"'s enjoyable bitterness ("If you were half as smart as she is tall / Then you wouldn't barely have to think at all" and "If she wasn't so nice, you'd get it through your skull") tells the big-talkers in the bar to give it up before they start, because they've no chance with the women they think they can pursue. "Velvet Rope" breaks down the selection experience of clubs, separating the have(got in)s from the have not(got-in)s.
"The Velvet Rope" also shows off the band's tasteful harmonies. The Gentlemen merge their vocals well (three of the four take turns singing lead), but never sound too pretty, maintaining a vocal sound that matches the dirt of the music. These voices drop nugget after nugget, and even manage a "Three-Minute Marriage Proposal," another of the album's highlights, in which marriage is proposed for next Halloween, because the singer and his questioned are scared, and wavering. The surface giggles hide a complex meditation on commitment. The singer, who loses the address to the church, suggests that his putative betrothed say yes unless she's "got something better to do." The line stays lighthearted while teasing the faux-nonchalance so many of us invest in our romance, but it hints at underlying emotional concerns.
Choosing the Gentlemen means choosing safely, which we're encouraged from youth on not to do (primarily by risk-adverse people). In this case, "safety" doesn't equal "complacency" but "comfort." Those Stonesian guitar riffs let you mark where you are. Once you've got that established, you can let yourself get off however you like.