Critic's pick: Lake Street Dive, 'Bad Self Portraits'

Contributing Music WriterFebruary 24, 2014 

Maybe they just caught me at the right time, but taking in last weekend's sneak preview of spring with the windows open and Lake Street Dive's extraordinary new pop party album Bad Self Portraits blasting from the speakers sure made it seem as though winter's days were numbered.

A quartet of wildly resourceful writers, singers and instrumentalists, the members of Lake Street Dive met as students at the New England Conservatory of Music. They have operated as a band out of Boston and Brooklyn, N.Y., for the past decade. But Bad Self Portraits, a set of sunny, ultra-alert tunes steeped in pop and soul tradition that never sound unduly retro, might well prove a career breakthrough.

The most immediately arresting aspect of the band's sound is the singing of Rachael Price, whose clear and unaffectedly rustic voice sounds like a cross between a young Bonnie Raitt and Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard. It can elongate with the easy blues-soul strut of Bad Self Portraits' title tune, wail with vintage girl-group command (ably assisted by the band's roaring, Shirelles-like backup harmonies) during Stop Your Crying, and bark with rhythmic authority over the percussive, Little Feat-style groove of What About Me.

Then we have the songs — 11 in all and not a dud in the bunch. Lyrically, the tunes seem wary and more than a little self-effacing. "Another night wasted in my parents' basement," Price howls on Rabid Animal (written by bassist/pianist Bridget Kearney). "Don't know why I didn't chase it when I was hot on its trail."

Later, during the after-hours Beatlemania of Rental Love (also by Kearney) the mood is similarly resigned as Price works up a brilliant torch-song lather ("When we were doing the slow climb, the peak was a foregone conclusion"). And for pure revivalistic fun, there is the brilliantly titled Bobby Tanqueray (written by drummer Mike Calabrese), a pop star renegade anthem that Price drapes in layers of deflated infatuation.

For sheer musical ingenuity, Bad Self Portraits hits a homer with Seventeen (another Kearney tune) that operates almost like a suite with three rotating melodies. The third is a brilliant deceleration into a slow burn guitar run by Mike Olson that sets up the song's weary punchline: "I wish I met you when I was 17, before I'd seen the things I'd seen."

What a worldly resolution for one of the smartest pop parties in ages. Don't wait for spring, though, to get in on the fun. Crank this one up now.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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