All words: Colin Wilhelm — All Photos: Jeremy Kim
“Now I’m giving only what I’ve found/ I hear you’re living deep inside the ground,” a voice that sounds an awful like Feist with a dash of Bille Holliday’s rasp, sang. Just moments before a piano (well, keyboard set to piano) drove a melody worthy of pop stardom, followed by the harmonic cooing of two female voices.
Pree’s “Lemon Tree” is the best twee song not to appear on an iPod commercial. It possesses the rare combination of momentum and cookie-sweet parasitism that allows a song to live in your brain for hours, days, weeks after the original listening. If Pree were a band from Williamsburg that played regularly in the Village you would want to murder this song in unspeakable ways, as you probably did with “Pumped Up Kicks” last year. Right now it remains a strangely familiar unknown, one that you can include on party/road trip mixes to impress your friends. Chris DeWitt’s excellent, barely tamed drumming brings an added dimension to “Lemon Tree”, and Pree’s entire catalogue, live. He’s like Animal from the Muppets on Xanax—occasionally he breaks through the hazy comfort and goes berserk, only to calm again under the reins of singer-songwriter-guitarist May Tabol’s saccharine major key hooks. [Full disclosure: as a friendly gesture,
DeWitt bought the reporter a shot after the show. Fuller disclosure: if he had sucked at drums no amount of rail whiskey in the world would have changed what was written about him, or Pree, in this space.]
Pree has a full album of songs though, and another theoretically on the way as well; the band described themselves as in a “writing period” currently, though talented multi-instrumentalist Vanessa DeGrassi soon leaves for Thailand and New Orleans. What comes next will be interesting to see: she and Tobol play off each other particularly well. The men (DeWitt and David Barker at bass), relegated to the rhythm section, manage Pree’s jazzy up and down shifts in tempo quite impressively. Not every song features a cute piano part; live a subtle, aggressive energy appears in several songs, feet churning beneath the placid surface of a duck on a pond. Perhaps without DeGrassi’s mellow handsaw and glockenspiel that tumultuous sound will sneak up more frequently, though her slide guitar skills will be sorely missed if that’s the case.
A lithe, solitary figure, even on stage with her bandmates, Tabol’s the clear center of gravity around which this talented band orbits. Though she sometimes overuses legato (sliding up or down in pitch instead of hitting each note cleanly) and the drums and patchwork of other instruments ate her voice sometimes, Pree proves that she has the creative chops (and partners) to justify breaking off from Le Loup.
Like a teenage boy trying to unhook a bra, openers Birds and Batteries possessed palpable ambition but found results fleeting. Carried away in the current wave of regurgitating early 80s synth pop, Birds and Batteries took a “Put a Synth on It” approach to songwriting. Monotonous beat? Put a synth on it. Bland bass line? Put a synth on it.
About to repeat a section of a song? Put a few random synth notes in there. This gave two impressions: either B & B did not know how to play their instruments that well and used synthesizers to distract from this, though ironically they did not seem to know how to play those well either, or their songwriting just revolves so much around recreating Depeche Mode and other favorite yuppie bands of the 80s that they don’t bother to give the other instruments, with the occasional exception of guitar, a consequential part.
That’s not to say B & B did not sometimes fascinate: interesting riffs popped into songs occasionally, but left often as soon as they came. One song belonged on U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, in a good way. Overall though Birds and Batteries seemed as undercooked as Pree was sweet and savory.
- Birds and Batteries