Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The XYZ Affair. A Few More Published Studies (Self Released, 2007)

"Dare I say my education/ Was less than I'd hoped it would be?"

In a funny coincidence, my two favorite songs of 2007 each shared the same name: "All My Friends." One, by LCD Soundsystem (from the stellar Sound of Silver) is a heartbreaking paean to aging hipsters. The other, from Brooklyn four piece The XYZ Affair's debut A Few More Published Studies, is a glorious miniature rock opera touching on -- in just over four and a half minutes -- prep school shenanigans, Central Asian Great Game politics, the cinema classic Major League, and Altamont. It's no small feat, and upon first listen you're gonna want to hear it over and over again. When everything goes into overdrive at the 1:30 mark, I dare you to keep your heart rate in check and a smile from spreading across your face (check out the video -- starring Double Dare's Marc Summers, no less! -- at http://www.thexyzaffair.com/?page_id=6).

"All My Friends," like the rest of A Few More Published Studies, finds a band punching way above its weight, and doing it in style. I stumbled across this record when Insound (www.insound.com) named it as one of 2007's best, and I'm glad I took their advice. The XYZ Affair's sound can be described as grandiose, with soaring melodies and massive hooks. Think a rougher-edged Queen, especially since singer/guitarist Alex Feder's vocals have two settings: reedy and falsetto. It works, though, especially since the cockeyed power pop compositions consistently rise to the occasion, keeping the listener in a perpetual state of surprise. Everything about this band's sound is big: the drums echo, the guitars sustain. They're stadium-ready, right out of the box.

Songs like "Little Fool" and "The Professional" periodically burst into full-band sing-alongs reminiscent of that scene in The Hunt for Red October when all the Russian sailors (and their Scottish captain --that was weird) are singing the Soviet national anthem, only better and less communist. These guys are clearly having fun with it. And the half-baked, half-serious guitar heroics which burst from the speakers at the 2:31 mark of "Ideals" are nearly worth the price of admission alone.

The XYZ Affair's lyrics come across as literate to the point of eggheadedness, as is to be expected from a band named after an 18th century diplomatic incident between France and the U.S. But that's ok; none of the words distract from the rad melodies, which is all one can ask, really. It's not quite Dennis Miller calling Monday Night Football, but a history degree might help you make sense of some of the more abstract references.

I first saw these guys play last fall at the Black Cat in DC, on a Sunday night on the small stage. The crowd was, er, sparse: me and literally eight other people, five of which were family of the band. Regardless, they brought their A game and played as though in front of a sold out crowd. Respectable, especially after a 200 mile van ride down 95. You gotta hand it to guys with that kind of heart. So go see them if they pass through your town. And more importantly, buy this album and say hello to one of your new favorite bands.