There's plenty of delightful songwriting and blissed out guitar rock in this bedroom...
Jaime Gill 2004-11-23
The word "indie" means many things to many people, but nowhere is the difference so stark as between the UK and the USA. In the UK, indie means little more than guitar-based and Not-Rachel-Stevens, while in the US it suggests a whole anti-professional, anti-commercial sensibility. Hence "Morning Glory"-period Oasis were laughably considered indie here, but were quite rightly lumped in with overproduced rock whores like Bon Jovi in the USA.
The Cocker Spaniels are effectively one man band Sean Padilla and are very much US indie, and this is their blessing and their curse. For all the obvious talents of Padilla, his gift for oddball melody and breezy charm, this is an album undermined by self-consciousness and a weakness for whimsy. Padilla is a self-confessed Pavement fanatic, but seems to have learnt the wrong lessons from them. Pavement knew exactly where the line was between spontaneous and sloppy; The Cocker Spaniels are less sure footed.
Yet, hidden among the irritating spoken word interludes and wilfully obscure production is some delightful songwriting. Take "Weekend Girl", a bouncing, blissed out piece of guitar rock that sounds a little like a giggly Dinosaur Jr, or the nonchalant wit of "Only Black Guy At The Indie Rock Show". Both abound with Beach Boys melodies,little shifts in rhythm and abrupt surges of ragged guitar, making the most of Padillas reedy voice.
On songs like this, or the sweet strumalong of "Little League", the very amateurishness of the Cocker Spaniels from the awful sleeve to the bedroom production add to the low key charm, with no ego looming between listener and song.
Sadly, there are other moments where Withstand The Whatnot sounds like a hobby-album, the fruit of idle, stoned thoughts and half-hearted recording. And peoples hobbies are seldom interesting to others, as on "My Blessing", which may well be lo-fi but is also low quality, or the grimy Breeders wannabe "Finals Season".
The Cocker Spaniels seem happy enough to remain a Texan cult, and are likely to stay that way so as long as they remain so scrupulously in thrall of the indie aesthetic. A shame, as there are songs here which deserve preaching to the unconverted.