The Atolls – self-titled (EP)

The Atolls - coverRemember a few years back when two-piece rocks outfits were all the rage? Of course you do! We had Blood Red Shoes, No Age, P.S. I Love You, er… Tenacious D. And before that the White Stripes, the Black Keys, and Death From Above 1979 (who loved it so much they had to come back again).

Tenuous intro is tenuous. There’s no real connection to be made here; two-piece bands are nothing new and have been a staple of rock music for… well, for about as long as rock music, probably. It’s just that I don’t have much info about The Atolls beyond that they hail from Glendora, California, and their hometown is probably not named after the Rilo Kiley song.

Okay, check this: they formed sometime kinda recently, I’d guess, as this self-titled and self-released EP is the first and only record listed on their various websites. And these guys have done the band thing before, though I’ve no idea who with: it shows in how deliberate these songs are. There’s a decent bit of variety here: the first tune, ‘Low Tide’, is a four and a half minute indie rock whopper, and light on the indie (man, what an increasingly useless word that is as a descriptor!). The closest comparison I can come up with is that this fairly bass-heavy and dirge-like song has a little bit of a the National vibe to it. It’s a bit miserabilist (“People drown in less than a foot of water”) but has some lush and mournful singing over it, with delicately picked notes making their way carefully through the choruses.

From there we switch over to ‘Tangles’, which is a little – but only a little! – more upbeat, with some simple picking keeping the melody direct and uncomplicated, with gentle little flicks over the top of the drumkit, before the choruses kick in and the lush melodies and vocals lend something of a New Pornographers tone to the proceedings. And then after that there’s ‘Older Nazi Boyfriends’, definitely one of the more eccentric songs present, which recalls both 70s UK punk and US surf rock with its cheeky, upbeat tone and rhythm; at times the vocals get a little rougher, reflecting this. “That’s what you get when you don’t shut your fucking mouth,” go the lyrics, and you get the impression that, hey, someone ran their mouth in front of someone’s skinhead boyfriend at some point, huh?

The EP wraps up with ‘Something I’m Not Supposed To Do’ which slips back into the dreary-yet-catchy approach of ‘Low Tide’, though it manages to be slightly unsettling in a way that reminds me a lot of parts of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ (an over-referenced song, sure, but I think it’s the first time I’ve ever done so on NFI). ‘Something I’m Not Supposed To Do’, though, builds steadily, becoming more and more tense, the music bound to the unspoken misdeed of the song’s title. And about three minutes in – yeah, then it just gets awesome, in a way that [CHEAP SHOT AT OTHER BAND REDACTED] while I enjoy this song. It builds really nicely, you feel me?

The Atolls spends too much time in dreary territory for it to be a record I’ll regularly slip on, but thanks to the impressive range it manages in just four songs – including that cheeky, proto-surf-punk number which might sound out of place if these guys weren’t in complete control of their sound and style – means it’ll be sticking around in my collection.

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