Our Brother the Native
Tooth and Claw
ur Brother The Native’s debut album Tooth and Claw is just another hop in the endless, heartless shark-jumping of contemporary indie’s nature fetish. I can’t entirely blame the trend: people living in cities are tired of urban insincerity, so… so they ape woodland creatures for child-like revelation and some approximation of escape. Plus, 9/11 destroyed irony, etc.: we’re all okay with getting in touch with ourselves again. The aesthetic thread has produced some of this decade’s most innovative groups (Animal Collective), some of its most… well… (Devendra Banhart), and a horde of other bands with pretty, obscure-sounding names (Vetiver, Espers, Feathers) inevitably tied into the “freak-folk” tag despite their sonic differences.
What separates Our Brother The Native from their extremely obvious influences, which include Animal Collective, CocoRosie, and shades of the murmur & meander of Tower Recordings, is that they’re a young band. Not like Arctic Monkeys young, but like A*Teens young: two members are 16 and one is 18. FatCat, a completely respectable label, should get excited that young bands are starting to pick up on this sound; they’re vindicated in releasing the records they’ve been releasing over the past several years.
But if Animal Collective started growing up with Feels, Devendra bunked with Lohan, and the New York Times is starting to speculate on the “scene”, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a void to fill and it doesn’t mean Our Brother The Native can fill it.
Tooth and Claw is a long, trip-sensitive nocturne of subdued digital fuzz, acoustic guitar drones, and contorted, backwoods vocals. Song structures are so loose that it doesn’t even seem worth differentiating between the tracks; the whole album just winds away into itself, sometimes without a lot of direction. If it sounds like I’m picking the ideas out of nu-folk magnetic poetry, it’s because that’s how it sounds like Tooth and Claw was made.
To be fair, some ideas cohere, and fiercely; the bridge on “Welcome to the Arborary” is downright beautiful, and musters the kind of dread that Espers II focused on, but does it with an unnerving smile instead of a stare. The drifting operatic vocal on “Octopodidae” shows that they really are young at heart, burying a timelessly earnest vibe like Pachelbel’s Canon shoved under a pile of wet leaves.
It seems stupid to praise the band because they’re young; if anything, part of the charm of some of this stuff is that, well, these people are old enough to own houses and can still manage to sound like they’re five. Sure, Our Brother The Native isn’t playing RHCP covers at the talent show, and they’ve definitely got good ideas somewhere in them. But on Tooth and Claw, they feel a little lost; the album lacks enough inertia to make it really compelling, and when something pleasant drifts in, it’s always a couple minutes after you’d probably given up on it.
Also, though this is hard to substantiate, I feel like there’s something pre-emptive about the record’s existence. It doesn’t seem fully-formed enough to make an impact, but then again, there’s no time like the present for what they’re doing. Ultimately, they’re still standing in the shadow of all their drinking age peers. So, the name. Well, if your brother’s the native, then who the hell are you?
Stream songs from Tooth and Claw here.