Robbers on High Street
op music never really gets beyond precedence. Typically, new bands are squinted at through the same scopes: who did this first, how are they altering that sound, and does it work as well (or at least well). In this way, popular art forms have a way of fish-bowling themselves, and seemingly living in a much smaller environment than they might otherwise inhabit. Thus, a swarming global hive of sounds and sights becomes genre-fied, and it’s all so much easier for Soulseek scanners to reach out and grab what they want, or what they think they might like because Jimmy from the Post-Punk chatroom says it sounds like Interpol. As always, it’s a double-edged sword, and sadly, Robbers on High Street exist on the side without a chance of cutting you or leaving the shallowest mark.
The fact is I don’t have anything against the Robbers on High Street. I’ve stomached their pre-fab American-NME style bollocks. I’ve read the previews and raves from fans and fanzines alike, and come out relatively unscathed. I know they’re from NYC. I wish I could critique them for something other than their obvious debt to Spoon. Sadly, that’s the most distinguished characteristic behind the studied, boardroom-designed pop of Robbers on High Street.
I don’t intend this as an open note to Britt Daniel, but kiddo, if you need a witness, I’m your huckleberry. The Robbers on High Street have been digging through your trash; you should really be far more careful in the future. They’ve mirrored your cheeky, gleam-eyed delivery. They’ve mastered your band’s carefully repetitive organ lines. Their clean gutter expressions are your own, in a sick, sister-fucking way. They know your heroes and your demons, and they’ve summoned them all to the vinyl.
Let’s look at “Love Underground.” After the opening charge of the guitar, lead singer Ben Trokan unleashes his pre-trademarked urban drawl. Problems begin. Perhaps we can forgive the open copping of one aspect of a popular band’s sound, but every element of this song stinks of compliment and worship, more desirous of opening-band status than ever leaving a single wisped smoke trail of their own, from its stabbed-flank guitar to its beer-throated delivery. When follower “Dig the Lightning” begins, things move from bad to worse. The imitative piano leads the track’s juggled drum fills, and for just an instant, it’s the same song as “Love Underground.” Until, of course, you realize that their feigned Austin sound is even more stiffly costumed.
At album’s end, I’m cursing myself for perseverance. I understand the absurdity of spending this entire review belaboring their tried-and-true allegiance. Half of me wishes to admire them for such a composed ode to one of indie music’s favorite Elvis Costello impersonators. Christ, there are even a few compelling songs here, like the convoluted concrete love of “Descender” or the halogen-lit stroll of “The Price and Style.”
Unfortunately, Robbers on High Street don’t sound like Spoon like Spoon sounds like EC; they sound like they either share blood or a thin-walled apartment. Either they’re listening through the keyholes or Trokan and Daniel split a womb. At the end of the day, however, Spoon came first, and slight alterations on their limited legacy are fine. Carbon-copied thievery on the other hand is just oh-so uninteresting. So, yeah, maybe I do have something against Robbers on High Street. . .