Modern Rivals are said to have formed in reaction to a “plague of skinny-necked young men in collared shirts strumming acoustic guitars” in their hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Since then they have decamped to New York, where presumably they found a more favourable audience for their extravagant pop which draws from 60’s harmonic pop bands and modern dream pop productions a la Beach House. ‘Cemetery Dares’, their first album, builds brilliantly on the success of 2012’s ‘Sea Legs EP’.
‘Angel Bones’ seems to be a refined, quiet beginning, characterised by Erick Lee’s gentle falsetto and swirling keyboards. However, it’s also clear the band love a lush production which becomes more and more dominant as both this song – and indeed the album as a whole – progresses. A sense of twisted playfulness is at the heart of much of the bands’ work (just listen to the disorientating melodies of ‘Dig Up The Sunset’ or ‘A Shade Hesitant’) and they even try their hand at tropically-flavoured ambient pop (on ‘The Ice’ and ‘Moon Dust’), whilst ‘Yvaine’ is blessed with an inspired sequence of harmonies.
There is barely any sign of Modern Rivals losing their natural exuberance and thirst for invention so even the comparatively downbeat last songs, ‘In Tuxedo’ and ‘Pins And Stitches’, still radiate in keyboard-led avant pop. Yet amidst the excellence, ‘The Dead Leaves’ is unquestionably the brightest star of all. It’s a towering psych pop masterpiece with multi-part choruses, which recalls both the harmonic joys and arrangement skills of The Beach Boys and The Zombies, crossed with the macabre flavours of the Tales Of The Unexpected theme tune. I believe it’s the best song I’ve heard this year.
With all tracks – bar The Flaming Lips-style space-pop interlude ‘Somnipath’ – around the five minute mark, there’s a danger of self indulgence here. However, the songs aren’t long for the sake of it, this is so they can pack as many genius ideas and hooks into every track. It’s a method which produces exceptional results on ‘Cemetery Dares’.
The Zombies, The Beach Boys, The Flaming Lips, Beach House, Triptides, Zoo Brother