The UK Guardian Picks NewVillager As 'New Band To Watch'

3/21/2011

NEWVILLAGER In The UK Guardian:

Hometown: Brooklyn and San Francisco.

The lineup: Ben Bromley and Ross Simonini.

The background: The three most hyped (or self-hyped in two cases) bands at the start of this year – Mona, Brother and the Vaccines – drew attention for their back-to-basics approach. They offered crude propositions and simple pleasures. But there are others daring to be different, making unusual connections, being anything but obvious. Last night, for example, we went to Heaven in London to watch Crystal Fighters, a three-piece creating a hybrid of Basque folk and techno out of indigenous instruments, dance rhythms and the poetry of a friend's deceased, insane relative. It hinted at what a collaboration between Federico García Lorca and the Chemical Brothers might have been like: vivid and joyous, if a little crazed.

NewVillager are equally determined to stand out from the crowd. They describe themselves as "an artist collective". The core duo of Ben Bromley and Ross Simonini are complemented by "visual director" Ben Dickinson (LCD Soundsystem, the Rapture), plus live drums and a cast of thousands – well, maybe a dozen – whom they draft in as and when required to work on whatever ancillary drawings, animations, performances, films, lectures, books and writings are needed to augment the music.

Wait – as Blue Oyster Cult once said – there's more. Bromley and Simonini, recently hailed by NME as "pop shamans taking meticulous steps towards a mysterious, musical nirvana", use the various media at their disposal to espouse their "NewVillager mythology". This comprises a "10-part cycle exploring transformation, teenage-hood and the formation of new ideas". As if that weren't enough, their shows include various installations, "integrated events" and "immersive rituals" which "explore the concept of the boundaries between different communities".

Meanwhile, their forthcoming debut album, they have promised (or should that be threatened?), will be a "song cycle" based on "not so much a narrative but a lens or a model for looking at any kind of transformation – how does something change from one state to another state? What kind of a process is that? What are the perennial tensions in that process?" When they started going on about the "structural shifts, including the main shift from Cocoon House to Black Crow Boy to Light House" intended for the album, we got a little irritable and couldn't help wondering: yes, but what about the tunes?

See, every so often a band comes along with ideas about subverting the form (yer actual pop music) and adding multimedia facets to the otherwise rote ritual of release single, release album, tour. Remember Sudden Sway, the mid-80s clever-clogs who issued eight versions of one single, followed by an extravaganza by the name of Spacemate which included a double LP, a book, a poster, a set of cards and an instruction manual, all packaged together in a soap-box container, after which the plan was to devise a "soap opera musical" called '76 Kids Forever? The conceptual carapace was inviting but by the time you got to the music it was a tad anti-climactic. Needless to say, their attempts to make the packaging of pop interesting failed to sell.

NewVillager are a bit like a latter day American Sudden Sway. When they finally get to discussing their music, they call it "new pop" and claim it's a cross between Michael Jackson and the Beatles. This is risibly wide of the mark. Lighthouse has chanty vocals and a quasi-religious feel. Overpass is also white gospel-ish, with churchy organ. Bad Past Gone Away is what happens when indie boys do soulful. Genghis On is Scissor Sisters-style retro-disco, while Rich Doors is hooky synth-funk that recalls Hall & Oates when they worked with Arthur Baker on their album Big Bam Boom.

More than anyone, they remind us of Polyphonic Spree, another outfit intent on bringing a non-rock purity of spirit to pop who, having seemed at first to be rule-changing, eventually became Just Another Band. How soon it will be before NewVillager buckles depends on their mettle, and bank accounts (who's funding all their auxiliary ventures?), but you've got to applaud their ambition even as you worry that their music is thus far a woeful mismatch for their ideas.

The buzz: "They weave mythology throughout their music and art."

The truth: It's easy to scoff and be cynical, but at least they're Saying Stuff, even if we haven't a clue what it all means.

Most likely to: Be bicoastal.

Least likely to: Go postal on us – they're too joyous, man.

What to buy: Their self-titled debut album will be released on 21 June by IAMSOUND.

File next to: Sudden Sway, Hall & Oates, Polyphonic Spree, Crystal Fighters.