We can add one more item to the list of great things that come from Kentucky in addition to Jim Beam, Johnny Depp, Florence Henderson, Hunter S. Thompson, The Derby, the perfect mint julep, bluegrass, and my wife’s family tree. (These are not, I repeat, not in order of importance.) Thanks to whoever selects the musical guests on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (I just looked it up—thanks, Jonathan Cohen!), I discovered Sleeper Agent, a 6-piece band from Bowling Green who released their debut album in September of last year. Now, debuts generally fall into one of two categories:
1.) The “Yes” category, which involves a solid first outing with increasingly great follow-ups until you release a masterpiece like Fragile for your fourth album.
2.) The “The Strokes” category, which involves releasing a stone-cold killer for a first album and then kind of going downhill from there.
I could have used any of hundreds of artists who fit the aforementioned patterns, but these bands give you the idea. (Technically there are other, somewhat rarer, categories: you could do what The Beatles did and release a classic debut and then follow it up with 11 more classics. Good luck with that. And obviously, you also have the converse, which simply involves releasing an album that sucks and then continuing to suck over and over again—I won’t name any artists for that category since what constitutes “bad” tends to inspire more controversy and arguing than what’s “good.” I’m trying to keep my chakras clear of negativity. As Linda McCartney once said, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will break my heart.”)
Celabrasion hopefully falls into the first category since it shows a lot of promise with its short, spiky, hook-filled songs and dual female-male vocal interplay. They cram a lot of action into their 3-minutes-or-less songs, switching up tempos, time signatures, and styles whenever they feel like it. It could have been a mess but the band are skilled for ones so young and manage to pull off their ideas with aplomb (wait a second. . . “with aplomb?” Who am I? Oscar Wilde?) They could probably take a tip from Archie Bell & The Drells—“we not only sing, but we dance just as good as we want”—and tighten up a little next time, although it’s always better to have too many ideas rather than not enough. And enthusiasm counts for a lot.
At times, Sleeper Agent sound like a punk-pop cross between The Breeders, Elastica, and mid-period Ash—if those bands had locked themselves in their rooms as kids and listened only to mid-60s garage band frat rock . . . and I mean that as a good thing. They don’t actually sound like they’re doing “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” or “Farmer John,” it’s more that the spirit of this particular genre inhabits their music. It’s rare nowadays to hear a rock band doing upbeat songs with almost no angst or gloom whatsoever. Even when some darkness creeps in, the band can’t maintain the mood for long; each chorus sounds like sunshine exploding the clouds away after a storm. (That makes them sound like The Care Bears, doesn’t it?) Anyway, it’s the sound of a band plainly having a blast performing their music.
Occasionally they’re a shade derivative, though there’s really nothing too wrong with that since they keep everything fresh by mixing up their influences well. It especially works when you hear quick echoes of other songs but you can’t quite put your finger on which ones; it doesn’t work so well when you actually hear someone else’s melody since it takes you right out of the song, but they only do it blatantly one time and it only matters if you’re really familiar with “Rocks Off” by The Rolling Stones. (I’m fairly certain I hear Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” in another song but it doesn’t bother me as much since it’s not quite as obvious.)
So what more will it take for Sleeper Agent to produce a total classic? Not much. They certainly have the building blocks: youth, verve, songs that swerve, and I’m willing to bet they’re ferocious in concert. There’s only one thing left: they just have to not be The Strokes.