The Ex-Optimists, Bee Corpse Collector
With Bee Corpse Collector, The Ex-Optimists sound like a band resolutely out of time, out of step with anything that’s happening today. To which I have to say: awesome. More power to ’em.
They’re not that far retro, of course, skipping a mere two decades back to the dewy-eyed heyday of good-hearted, snarky, noisy-but-tuneful indie-rock/pop, when bands like Superchunk, Pavement, Built To Spill, and The Posies bubbled away beneath the surface, making music that was ignored by the mainstream at the time but which has since become the underpinning sound for a fair chunk of modern rock radio.
I came of age, so to speak, in the tail-end of that era; it’s where I first truly started forming my own opinions about music, where I realized there was more to music than what got airplay on the radio or MTV, and I can’t help but grin when I think back to those days. Judging by Bee Corpse Collector, neither can College Station-dwellers The Ex-Optimists.
The resemblance is pretty apparent right from the start with “Postcards,” the drifting, echoey, speeding-tempo alternapop of which makes me think of the Jesus & Mary Chain, albeit with occasional rough, lo-fi, Sebadoh-like touches. Singer/guitarist Kelly Minnis’s low-key vocals remind me of Gish-era Billy Corgan, even, or maybe Scott Oliver of underrated ’90s shoegazers The Miss Alans. Hell, there’s a lot here that reminds me of that band, come to think of it; these guys have the same kind of nonchalant, hey-we’re-just-having-fun vibe I always got from the MAs, which makes how great the songs are all that much better.
Then there’s “Summer At Sea,” which I swear to God sounds like it could be a long-lost B-side from The Posies’ Frosting On the Beater, a separated-at-birth sibling to “Earlier Than Expected” that’s got a little more muscle to go along with its shimmery prettiness. That melody and generally pretty vibe even remains towards the end, when things get all murky and dark.
Further on, the main guitar part on “Dead Eyes” makes me think of Foolish-era Superchunk; it’s deliberate and fragile, with Minnis’s sweet, gentle vocals murmured over the top, and then it builds to a nice, almost Dinosaur Jr.-(or Sebadoh-, you pick)ish crescendo towards the end. It works awesomely well, as does “Let’s Go To Sleep & Dream,” where the quiet mutter/murmur rises to an almost Bob Mould-like snarl, and the guitars drive straight on through the night, not stopping for any goddamn thing. It’s a fine, fine chunk of droney rock, and I’m loving the hell out of it.
“Portrait Of An Artist In Flames” is similarly loud, but a lot more ragged, the band seemingly shaking off the low-key jangle used since the start of Bee Corpse Collector in favor of a Twin Tone-style stomp that’s as noisy and desperate as most of the rest of the album is pretty. They slow things back down a bit with closer “Do No Harm,” starting off sleepy and slow-stepping, but even then the guitars get steadily louder and noisier ’til The Ex-Optimists turn into a full-blast (but still in relaxed slo-mo) noise-rock explosion.
There’s a cool little bonus EP that comes with the album, as well, a small pile of five not-quite tracks that are pretty great on their own but maybe didn’t fit with the band’s overall aesthetic for Collector. I definitely get that for “Gay For Satan,” which is darker and rougher-sounding than anything on the album itself (but still damn good), and the jangly, light-hearted love song “Husbands,” and definitely the “[Dreamtime Version]” of album track “Do No Harm,” which downshifts even further down in favor of a drifting, atmospheric, largely instrumental arrangement.
That said, I do find myself wishing the band had included on the album the wistful “Someday Someone,” since it fits nicely with the Miss Alans/Posies vibe I noted above, and “The Last Kiss Cover Band Show,” which is a bleak, low-voiced bedroom recording that comes off like Jonah Matranga at his most subdued, or maybe like an acoustic version of a Silver Scooter song; it’s crystalline and endearing, and damn, it would’ve made for a great coda track, to my mind. But hell, at least it’s on the tacked-on EP, right?
Now, reading through the above, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, great; so this band sounds like all those other bands. Why bother with these guys, then, if they’re just aping their indie-rock heroes?” The answer, thankfully, is that they’re not — all that stuff above is meant just as shorthand to give you an idea of where The Ex-Optimists hang their musical hat.
They definitely do sound like they were influenced by everybody I mentioned above, but nonetheless, they’ve made this sound something all their own, simultaneously paying homage and reinventing vintage indie-rock into a new thing that’s got some of the shape and look and feel of the original but comes out wholly its own beast. And that’s something this indie-rock fan will gladly go for, at least, every damn time.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go queue up some of my Posies and Sebadoh albums…
(Feature photo by Daniel Solano.)