Your Biggest Fan EP
oxtrot’s joyous “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives,” a song released by their own label Cult Hero earlier this year, was the centerpiece of a cloying second EP. Pretty, gritty, and underproduced, the Texas quintet howled promise that they’d some day rule the sun-drenched soft-rock niche, if only Stuart Murdoch and friends would desist. 2005’s Raised By Wolves EP was an irritating ape of Belle and Sebastian’s seamless cheer, if only because Ramesh Srivastava’s voice and Murdoch’s are fatally similar. Yet the title track and others were memorable in their own right, doused in scintillating piano chords, lyrical rhymes, sensitivity, and guitars that convincingly held sway in the melodies’ murky zeal.
This EP—a teaser for an album forthcoming next year—has comparatively pumped-up and padded production. But the music has also changed. Closing track “Sway” adds a Cohen and Drake-infused sense of elegant dread, with a cello that charts a smooth, nostalgic course between Srivastava’s dipping, looping melody and the holy wash of vocal harmonies at the chorus. The latter borders on sounding like the credits track to a Streisand film, or at the very least, like it might appeal to fans of such things. But it’s a surprising and quite beautiful song when all is said and done—a close and innovative Rubber Soul reference that maintains its place in the fabric of 2006, with more than a few sidelong glances at baby-boomer rock icons gone sober or smitten.
The strength of middle track, “Trouble,” is the piano and the melodic assonance of the verse-chorus divide, its weakness is the chorus’s cheap syncopation and hum-drum percussion. The chorus of a pop song is unequivocally its essence; even on good bread, you can’t have a great sandwich without great meat. But more happens: the musical story and the lyrical story develop, and suddenly there’s a waft of new material released from the song’s stuffy first half. The bridge, “I never woulda done it / I never woulda lied / I never woulda slashed my parents’ chest,” isn’t necessarily riveting, but the strings dominate even the most tired chordal resolutions, soaring, sweeping, and running along with the guitar and drums in another moment of climax, followed by bittersweet denouement.
“Your Biggest Fan” is a pleasant Elliot Smith throwback, but the song unravels and winds up in equal measure; there’s no real progress made. The playful guitar’s role is secondary, heard at the back of the ears, and fairly dull. The gist of the chorus—unrequited love, disillusionment—is flatly expressed, and far less interesting than buried lines like, “I want to be the toast of the shanty town” and “there’s a right way to fall in love.” Here and elsewhere there is earnestness, and even an ornate conceptualization of indie pop embedded in the melodical machinations and overproduction (otherwise known as a hype machine’s lovechildren.) But, ironically, we knew of Voxtrot’s capability from listening to their nutritious homemade early work. Here, there are moments—and the entirety of “Sway”—that are triumphantly not Belle and Sebastian rips, and confirm a talent that label adoption hasn’t sapped.