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Restless People

Restless People

[Iamsound; 2010]

By ; September 14, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Switching things up in music is generally a good thing. Indie bands using African rhythms, hip-hoppers rapping over ambient sound-scapes, Dead-heads raving it up and metal kids replacing guitars with saxophones… it’s always refreshing to hear a band so inspired by something outside of their comfort zone that they try and crowbar it into their own material, regardless of how that works out for them. But in nearly two decades of tirelessly devouring new music, there is one thing I have never known to be “cool,” to end up being a good career move, and that is a band deciding to “go pop.” Fair enough, a few knowing nods to Prince never hurt anyone (hello Hot Chip, Suckers), but it’s usually the case that the pop stars pick up “real” instruments and mature into “respected” artists; you never hear much of post-punks or math-rockers reinventing themselves by crafting a handful of shiny, sing-along, dancefloor ready anthems.

Restless People, essentially a shuffled selection from NYC’s Family Edition label/ website/ collective, have made the somewhat odd decision to follow that very path. Jesse Cohen, Tony Blankets and Michael Bell-Smith make up Professor Murder (with drummer Andy Craven, absent from the Restless People line-up), while Cohen joins former Storm & Stress and Don Caballero member Eric Emm in Tanlines. With pedigrees like these, you might well expect a DFA wet-dream meeting of angular rhythms and lush synthetic textues; the actual result is closer to some happy-hardcore DJ soundtracking a hipster pool party with Euro-cheese renditions of ska-punk classics. Surprisingly, this isn’t as horrendous as it sounds.

In fact, Restless People’s eponymous debut is a riot of good tunes and even better vibes. Sure, the band’s bio references Phil Collins, Maximum Joy, Nelly Furtado and Operation Ivy, but even the most broad-minded critic would struggle to imagine those influences coming together in any kind of cohesive way. Restless People pull it off spectacularly. From the opening keyboard stabs and klaxon blasts of “Days Of Our Lives” through to the group-chants and cascading bleeps of closer “Victimless Crime,” the mood is ecstatic; various electronic South American dance rhythms powering the tracks to a series of hands-in-the-air climaxes. For the first few casual listens, Restless People sounds like the kind of frivolous fun-time music you’d expect to hear blasting from a carnival float sound system. Or indeed, like the kind of chart-bound pop you hear everyday on mainstream radio.

Familiarity with the lyrics, however, reveals the record’s big beating heart, an overwhelming positivity that reflects the empowering social awareness of hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth Of Today. Tellingly, the first words sung here are “Got to be real,” and most of the songs on Restless People feature repetitive, chanted call-to-arms refrains: “We’re gonna make it/ we’re gonna see a brighter day,” “I’m not letting go,” “Keep the fires burning/ you know these things take time.” The album’s prettiest moment, “Little Sky,” reaches even further back into the heritage of cosmic conscious music (“I was born under a great big sky/ I’m just a little guy”), recalling Peter Gabriel, Joe Strummer, even Bob Marley.

With their first full-length offering, Restless People are certainly taking a risk: Professor Murder followers may recoil at the lack of non-synthetic instruments, whilst Tanlines fans might find the frantic pace too much to bear. And, of course, both factions could well see the whole project as just too poppy. But in a world where hardcore punks like Fucked Up are publicly showering affection on electro pretty-boy Diamond Rings, it would seem that taking pleasure in pure pop is no longer such a guilty secret. It’s certainly a far cry from the “stay positive” ethos romanticised by the Hold Steady, but whilst the times they are a-changing Restless People’s message remains pretty much the same. Here’s hoping it works out for them.


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