The Sour Notes, Last Looks

The Sour Notes, Last Looks

Talk about a transformation. Back when I reviewed The Sour Notes’ Hot Pink Flares 7″, I noted that the band I was listening to was a far cry from the band I’d heard the first time I saw the Notes live, not even a full year before. They’d shifted directions, throwing the keys to the background, ditching (mostly) the melancholy of 2010’s It’s Not Gonna Be Pretty, and tearing their way through some truly cool power-pop tunes; it was a promising hint of what was to come.

Looking back, however, I feel like I really had no clue where the band was headed, none at all. Last Looks fulfills that promise, then leaves it in the dust — it simply is a flat-out perfect set of sweet, ultra-melodic, shiny-clean power-pop songs, with all the rough edges sanded smooth and a damn near flawless sense of what pieces should go where. The latter part’s particularly crucial here, by the way, considering that each track here is like its own little mini-symphony, with different movements, crescendoes, and denouements.

The closest comparison I can come up with, really, is to Canadian pop supergroup The New Pornographers (particularly back in the Mass Romantic era). The Sour Notes come close to channeling the Vancouver band’s furious, wide-smiling power-pop aesthetic, and like the Canadians, they build songs that are so densely layered you have to listen multiple times just to be able to pick out all the various moving parts; see “Big Dreams,” which is laid-back and gorgeous but busy as all hell, where I didn’t even catch the horns or “Wave of Mutilation”-esque riffs lurking down beneath the main melody.

“Hot Pink Flares” itself is a good example of how the band works, starting off with a crunchy guitar riff and then shifting sideways to incorporate some nicely understated strings, keys, and dueling male/female vocals…and that’s before it builds steadily to an awesome, ramshackle crescendo and then collapses near-breathlessly into delicate, girl-group pop with Wild Moccasins-esque vocals. If anything, the track works even better here than on the original 7″; here it feels like it fits into the context of the album as a whole, and that’s no bad thing.

Adding to that New Pornographers comparison is guitarist/singer/songwriter Jared Boulanger’s effortless command of a hooky melody, which lets him come up with riffs and lines that are impossible to ignore, practically demanding you listen. “The Moment You Feel It” is the best example here, a slice of anthemic, Caribbean-tinged pop that rides a great guitar line and pulls you along with it, making you want to listen again as soon as it’s done.

Not everything works as well, of course — the fragile, piano-heavy (at first, anyway) “As Crude As Watercolor” doesn’t quite do it for me, despite a hint of Trembling Blue Stars-esque minimal, romantic electro-pop. Same for the instrumental “More Colour,” which sounds retro to me, coming off like Harry Nilsson. But hey, that’s still not a bad place to be.

All in all, Last Looks is one of those great, great indie-pop albums that sounds more like a masterpiece every time you listen, unfolding a new bit of sound each time. Make your way up to the windows and peek on in for yourself.

(Feature photo by Francisco Marin.)

[The Sour Notes is playing 4/30/11 at Fitzgerald’s, along with Mobley, Spain Colored Orange, Day Sailor, & Disfrutalo.]
(self-released; The Sour Notes --
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Review by . Review posted Saturday, April 30th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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4 Responses to “The Sour Notes, Last Looks

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Summerfest 2011 Rundown, Pt. 1: American Fangs + Romulus Ate + Sour Notes + LIMB + + Black Congress + Grass Skirts + More on May 31st, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    […] through their set. Since then I’ve been able to check out their most recent full-length, Last Looks, and was extremely impressed — they come near to the New Pornographers in terms of being able […]

  2. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 3: Ancient Cat Society + Sour Notes + Blues on the Back Porch + Cinderella + More on July 10th, 2011 at 12:51 am

    […] Notes and Elaine Greer. The latter two are freaking great; the more I listen to the Notes’ Last Looks, the more pitch-perfect the damn thing sounds to me, and Greer’s new one, Annotations, is […]

  3. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 2: The Sour Notes + The Energy + The Manichean + IFest + Holy Fiction + May Day + More on February 27th, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    […] On the pop front, the other floor of Fitzgerald’s is where you really, truly need to be — Austin band Mobley (who are pretty dang good) are headlining, playing with local icons Spain Colored Orange and the aforementioned Sour Notes. I reviewed the also-aforementioned Last Looks, which, again, is pretty great, right on over here. […]

  4. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 2: Latch Key Kids + Chris Gray Day + The Eastern Sea + The Sour Notes + Lisa’s Sons + More on October 20th, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    […] Invasion” and more the “Houston-By-Way-Of-Austin Invasion”?), whose album Last Looks from this past year is a great, great, great pop album in the vein of The New Pornographers. […]

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