I think the Brooklyn band Libel is hedging their bets with this one. Music for Car Commercials is a cheeky title, isn’t it? Can’t blame the band for insinuating their music is perfect fodder with which to “sell out” – because what does that even mean anymore? Unless you’ve got a pretty serious touring regimen, some great merch, or some rich parents, there’s really no way to survive by selling your music. What isn’t pirated is streamed on services like Spotify and Pandora, and the royalty payments are so small they may as well not even be there. And while that’s a discussion for another time, the mode of commerce for musicians isn’t – in order to really get your music heard, one of the best ways is to have it repped to companies in the hopes of lucrative licensing deals: for movies, TV shows, and, yep, car commercials. So is Libel’s debut album a savvy marketing ploy to allow them to survive in the cutthroat world of music? Can’t answer that. But I can tell you if anything here is worth the expectation of larger exposure through media outlets.
You’ve only gotta get one track in before you know that Libel’s got a bright future in this crummy old music market. “This Is Love” has a chorus absolutely ripe for repetition across multiple media, its hook big and bold enough to land a shark off Montauk, if you believed John Lurie and Jim Jarmusch (check out that reference!). I took a crack at telling you about the video for it not too long ago, but hey, I loved the song then and I love it now. Its quiet verse/loud chorus dynamics perfectly encapsulate the adrenaline regulation while listening, and I’m pretty sure my hands were in the air when the choruses kicked in, which made typing this review super difficult. So I’m calling this song at least a great success – if I don’t hear it on television within a week, I’m calling for a psychological review of America as a whole.
So that leaves the rest of the album, then, doesn’t it? My first inclination while listening to Music for Car Commercials was that, dang, these dudes must love their Bowie. But the more I listened, and even thought that sentiment remains, it’s more clear that Libel well versed in Bowie’s disciples as well, and it’s from these worshipers that the band derives quite a bit of their sound. See, there’s a lightness to the Thin White Duke’s touch, and some of the bands that followed his approach broached a heaviness that Bowie only hinted at on later albums. I’m thinking most notably, probably, of Spacehog, the mid-1990s band formed by brothers Antony and Royston Langdon, who wrote huge, sneery, punky, glammy songs with a stadium-sized veneer. I’m totally cool with calling Libel their kindred spirits. Theirs and Pulp’s. Libel’s press even says the band “really should have had its heyday in 1993.” (What is it with that sentiment lately?)
Perhaps the modus operandi of their sound is hidden in the lyrics of “Old Boy,” a multi-part pop suite that doesn’t lose its sense of fun in the process; to wit: “So let’s get psyched and let’s get pumped / We’re gonna burn this whole world down and rebuild it better.” You’ve got the youthful exuberance, the hyperbolic everyperson proclamations, and the songwriting chops to make it work. Hear a single in there? Sure. Dig deeper into the album and you can make a case for “Tomorrow’s Children” and “No Past Tense” as well. Or one of the other ones, I’m not gonna begrudge you your favorites. But the point is, you can get as deep as “No Past Tense,” the penultimate track, and realize the album’s just as good there as it was at track two, then you know you’ve got an eminently relistenable record, don’t you? (Although you’re not really gonna top “This Is Love.” That’s the winner.)
All this is to say – enjoy yourself. Why wouldn’t you when you’ve got this kind of record on the player? (Or blaring through your computer speakers or earbuds – I’m not gonna lie, I ain’t no audiophile.) It’s still summertime, it’s not so hot in New York City anymore (Libel’s from Brooklyn, in case I didn’t mention it), and there’s gotta be a tiny club that the band’s gonna pack this weekend. That’s what it’s all about – and Music for Car Commercials does all of it right.
And with that, I give you a video of a man walking down the stairs…
RIYL: Destroy This Place, Spacehog, Pulp, Shudder to Think