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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Robbers On High Street
Grand Animals
New Line

Rating: 8.5/10 ?


July 25, 2007
Once upon a time, the Robbers On High Street were a 4-piece studio/5 piece-touring band. During that time, a few years back, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing lead singer and songwriter Ben Trokan, a young man who struck me to be a delightful fellow with a great sense of humor. Trokan and his mates have been weathering the test of time as a band, and their new album Grand Animals finds them stripped down to a trio of players well versed in the book of Kinks style sensibilities. Indeed, the three are so locked in as a unit that the album feels classically rich; listeners unaware of the band's background may be surprised to find just three men making the sounds within it. With Grand Animals, one might also think the Robbers On High Street to be either Brit-pop revivalists or late-comer American rockers hunting for perfect pop songs, complete with a story as well as a stagger. Compared with the brash, youthful swagger of Trokan's past albums, there is a lot more pop to be found in the Robbers' wares this time out. The focus on story telling is also a few steps closer to the spotlight on Grand Animals, but the immediate picture is one where the beauty of the album as a whole outshines the glare of each individual part.

I'm a big fan of 'experimental' concept compositions like the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society and The Who's Sell Out album, and it seems to me that in the time since recording and releasing Tree City two years ago, the Robbers have been listening to those albums as well. Grand Animals continues down the same path of energetic pop/rock collisions, but Trokan has cleared his own swath by putting more thought into the lyrics and adding a little more style and brass instrumentation. A great step for the Robbers to take, Grand Animals is the album that separates them from the hordes of bands milling about out there in the same ballpark.

Robbers 101's first lesson is "Across Your Knee," a track which plays out like a poppy, mid-tempo commentary on growing up and figuring out the ways of the world. Complete with an "Ah Ah Ah" chorus, piano plucking, and some brass to fill it out in the end, the track is the perfect way to set up the rest of the album.

Digital pre-album single "The Fatalist" is a hit if I've ever heard one, fueled by crunchy guitar and a bass groove that would make Bootsy Collins sway. Perhaps the song's title is an address from a band that sounds a bit like Spoon again - a band they've been compared to since their debut - but to properly size up the track one would have to say that they have a little more Elvis Costello mixed in this time for good measure.

Music is often a way to pay homage, and "The Ramp" is the band's way of honoring, of all people, Leonardo DiCaprio. Knowing the frantic pep with which the Robbers approach their music, I wouldn't be surprised if the story, a tale of youthful curiosity and recklessness, was based in some sort of truth; "He said, 'I dare you'/ I said, 'Make it a double'/ So I peddled back half a block away from that ramp." In tragic Robbers style the ramp gets the best of the young cyclist who, after hitting the ramp at top speed and sailing through the air, landed on his soft spot. As the boy lays dying in a hospital bed, his folks write letters to Leonardo DiCaprio, grasping for a way to help console their dying son.

A topical shift, "You Don't Stand A Chance" outlines the Robbers' stand against corporate malaise and the dumbing down of society. The tracks thematics, of everyone wanting to be unique while the cookie-cutter mass producers want everything uniform, give comfort and encouragement to those who would try to stand up only to be pushed back down. A simple, laid back tune filled with off-angle commentary and anchored by an upright piano riff and guitar strums, the song makes taking a stance against corporate pigs sound cool.

Each of the eleven tracks within Grand Animals can be broken down and taken apart as a stand-alone piece - individually they hint at manner of pop rock sounds - but none carries enough weight to eclipse the album. From the simple pop rock of "Crown Victoria" to the smooth nighttime pop of "Nasty Numbers," the Robbers shift left and right across the style spectrum with ease. The album's cover, of embroidered throw pillows emblazed with the Robbers' faces, suggests Grand Animals might be suited for muzak at a soft-spoken retirement home, but an early 60's sock hop on the wrong side of the tracks would be more appropriate.

Reviewed by Bob Ladewig
Having been introduced to good music by his sister in the early years, Bob Ladewig has been searching out all the best in indie music ever since. He also rides a skateboard and performs/directs comedy shows and, like all great men, he\'s afraid of really growing up.

See other reviews by Bob Ladewig

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