Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Salt Lake City’s indie-pop quintet the Devil Whale have produced their second album completely independently. Recorded during the same sessions, Teeth is similar in style to their 2010 EP Young Wives drawing on influences ranging from the classics (the Beatles, the Velvet Underground) to contemporary (Dear Hunter, Guided By Voices), and maybe even tinges of Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse. One of the best ways to describe their sound is “buoyant.” Like listlessly floating fathoms above the ocean floor, there’s the melancholy, the frustration and there’s the sublime optimism of helplessness and letting go.
Frontman Briton Jones’ lyrics have been called a “literature of the heart,” for the way he folds emotion into a four-minute tune with the precision of a classic author, particularly Carl Sandburg or Theodore Roethke, two of Jones’ favorites. The Devil Whale also calls on visual influences, as their name is from a picture in a magazine, not Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
Luring with its slow piano, dark metaphors for suicide and obsession with television, “Television Zoo,” is probably a good reason why the Devil Whale has been criticized for being disgruntled with America or jaded in general. But these attitudes seem seasonable, not a cry for attention.
On “So-Called War” Jones gets romantically melancholy when he sings “she’s only famous because she slept with all my friends.” “Golden,” which opens the album, instantly creates a sanguine landscape, building and climaxing perfectly, expanding on the ephemeralness of romance.
“Barracudas,” possibly the Whale’s most popular song, is sung from the perspective of a disenchanted businessman, needing a vacation from all his greedy, blood-sucking “friends.” Given the pop-ish oomph, the song isn’t bogged down or depressing either.
The Devil Whale are still unsure if they want to sign to a label, so considering the cost of releasing their album on their own is a big commitment, inspiration to anyone who wants to cut the record industry circuit out entirely. In more ways than one, Teeth is quite the accomplishment.