Kissing By The Great American Novel
By Asher Baumrin & Alessandro van den Brink
Kissing makes us all excited to be alive. When two lips collide, the experience is overwhelmingly brimming with energy. It can be slow and romantic—it can be fast and furious. It can be a combination of the two. Sometimes people kiss on the cheek, and sometimes they kiss with tongue (I believe “making out” is what the kids call it these days). “Kissing” by The Great American Novel, the tiny yet unstoppable indie rock group that has established itself as one of the forerunners of the minuscule Brooklyn labels, Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, is definitely of the latter kind. Frontman Layne Montgomery’s music has always been bursting with happy angst and raw excitement, practically since his first emergence into the music scene in his high school days, but on his second album, an improvement from his exhilarating but sloppier first album, there’s a higher level of mastery. Mastery of songwriting, mastery of production, and mastery of performance, a superb trifecta if you will. Basically, GAN has accomplished the difficult task of producing a better sophomore record, something that seemed rather doubtful given the joviality of their debut, “You & I,” that could shatter through your soul and release every single hint of euphoria you had in you. But what’s the secret behind GAN? The same as practically any other brilliant indie rock band since the times of Pavement and Dinosaur Jr.: great songwriting immersed in fantastic performing. For instance, Zac Coe, the band’s skilled drummer, breaks new ground with his rendition on songs such as the magnificent “Raymond Carver,” named after the celebrated short story author, by keeping the beat with a sense of vigorous propulsion. This swamps the listener in an ecstatic looking-forward-to-something feel that ends up driving the band and establishing their reputation as “the most fun you’ve had in a long time.” There’s just this overwhelming aura of elation as soon as Montgomery and lead guitarist JR Atkins start pounding together with their garage-meets-punk distortions that have the perfect amount of fuzz that’s kept in a crisp encasing by producer Oliver Ignatius, the founder of Mama Coco who delivers a much better sound engineering feat on “Kissing” than on practically any other work he’s ever been part of. This sleekness is exemplified quintessentially on the album’s lead single, “American Weekend,” a terrific exercise in catchy hooks from the band that come together during the chorus as Layne wails “All we ever wanted was a life to call our own,” as an abundant cluster of instruments all converge simultaneously (including guitars, bass, glockenspiel, good vibe organs and those splendid Zac Coe drums). It just seems so obvious before you’re even half way through the album that Montgomery knows more about choruses than the average musician, as literally every single track of the album has a memorable refrain that can get pounded into your head in the absolute best way possible. But even though Montgomery clearly has been stocking up on his classic indie rock, with that aforementioned Pavement influence ringing strong throughout the whole record, the frontman knows how to stay contemporary, inputting Harlem Shakes-style synthesizers that are completely anthemic on songs such as “All the Sad Young Literary Men,” such that Atkins can come in with a guitar riff (you gotta hear his incredible ornamentation on “I Want You”) to match and make the song spectacular. GAN even start to move into Hives-like adrenaline pumped rock on songs such as the two and a half minute tornado of a track, “Are You Sure You Don’t Wanna Hang Out?,” in a way that’s so entertaining that you can practically envision Montgomery in his jeans jacket and Mets cap practically gyrating next to Peter Kilpin in a way that’s so reminiscent of those high energy downtown bands that it becomes rather easy to envision GAN as something like a second coming of The Strokes or some other garage hero. As if that wasn’t enough already, keyboardist Devin Calderin shows that he just might be one of the most talented musicians in the entire group as he delivers a brilliant organ solo that sounds like a more upbeat version of that of Girls’ “Jamie Marie” on “Raymond Carver” that’s simply terrific to the highest degree. But by far the band’s biggest accomplishment comes on “Layne Montgomery is Bad at Girls,” an epic trumpet and sax led jam that’s just so epic that it just might be to GAN what “All You Need is Love” was to The Beatles. It’s just so radically different from everything from everything the group’s done to this point and features an amazing chord progression that gets reinforced by a great bass line from Kilpin and the best riff/ornamental work GAN could have possibly done to the song. And then when you think the song is about to die off, it progresses to a slightly slower part in which Calderin and Atkins go berserk on their respective instruments while the brass gets even louder and Montgomery and his background singers chant, “I’m so bad at girls, yeah I’m so f***ing bad at girls.” But what’s got to be understood before you discredit The Great American Novel as a bunch of fun-loving Brooklyn hipsters is that Montgomery and his boys have created an album that combines blissful addictiveness with an underlying sentimentality (notice how Layne manages to reference kissing and/or his love life, or lack thereof, in each song). There’s just no way to describe the maturity gap between “You & I” and “Kissing,” because it’s so astronomical that if it weren’t for Layne’s distinctive vocals, you basically wouldn’t be able to recognize that the two bands were the same. However, we really must ask the band not to grow up too fast, because the day that those bouncing guitar licks get traded in for something more serious will be the day that GAN dies. Thankfully, Montgomery, with his massive Guided By Voices addiction, seems poised to do absolutely nothing about it. So, to summarize it all, Layne Montgomery may be absolutely horrific at girls, but we’re glad to say that he’s quite the opposite when it comes to music.
Key Tracks: “Layne Montgomery is Bad at Girls,” “Are You Sure You Don’t Wanna Hang Out?” and “American Weekend”
Album Rating: 9.2/10