It was pretty strange how 402 all got together. I never had a clear cut concept of what I would be doing when I started writing my first reviews years ago. In fact, my first reviews were all really based around cheap music equipment and how to stock your bedroom studio on the cheap. That wasn’t nearly as fun as listening to all this new music I was into at the time. Sadly, my path never really crossed into my own local scene (even after my pathetic attempts of trying to tap the local bands around my area).
However, with my newfound friends over at BAMM.tv, I’m definitely crossing more into the Bay Area music scene. Enter Plastic Villains. They just placed in the top three in a sort-of battle of the bands voting contest over at SF Pulse (in conjunction with BAMM.tv). They are very new to the music scene, having only been together since 2010 (and having played their first show this past May) but that shouldn’t stereotype them as just another garage band in SF. They are far from that.
Check out their entire album below!!!
These guys are definitely not the raw, chaotic group that you would have predicted. Usually, bands such as this have more of an unknown identity or unfinished or empty sound to them that doesn’t allow them to perform to their abilities. In essence, there is a very fine line between a bunch of talented musicians trying to play music together and a band. Plastic Villains definitely are a band. They have a definitive blues-rock-meets-garage-rock vibe, a la The Black Keys, harping on a sort of jam-rock/psychedelic vibe, a la Umphrey’s McGee. They might not be as wild as Valient Thorr, but if you take the insane vocalist from VT and all the insanity and replace that with smooooooooth (think the harder songs from Karate), then you’ll find yourself something very close to Plastic Villains.
Something that sets these guys apart from any of the bands mentioned before… their freshness. They have only been playing together for about a year! If you consider their band birth month May 2011 (their first show), then they technically have only been around for half a year at most. This means they have a ton of room for expansion. Their sound is still raw, but it really plays into their jam-rock essence. You can tell very quickly that Todd Andersen (vocals/guitar) and Mike O’Donnell (guitar) have been playing together for a very long time. Their chemistry as they trade lick-for-lick across songs, accented by Andersen’s vocals, is something relatively rare to find, especially when it works out this well. On the other hand… if they haven’t been playing together for a long time, they’ve fooled us all. It’s a guitar match made in heaven.
At times, they have an upbeat pop rock sound (like old The Strokes or even something akin to Kings of Leon) whereas other times they groove deep (like you’re sitting in on band practice made of magic). Their sound from song to song is definitely not polished. It’s not heavily produced. There are no signs of blatant rip offs from The Black Keys or Umphrey’s McGee. These guys are sort of a producer’s dream. They can seemingly produce a slew of songs that may range a handful of different genres, but they would all probably be under the same flavor of Plastic Villains. That is to say… their EP doesn’t easily define their range — and that’s a very good thing.
I wouldn’t call the realm of blues-rock or the current state of revival-rock saturated… it most definitely isn’t at the moment, as the only real popular band out doing this style is The Black Keys — and they are surrounded in the context of indie-pop fused with electronica and random hipster dubstep. But the niche The Black Keys fill is one that heeds no real competition. Rather, there is no one out there who really can contend at all. They made it for themselves and if someone wants to fight for the crown, it’s a long crawl up… especially when you have backers like the surviving Led Zeppelin members (as The Black Keys do). The con here isn’t that Plastic Villains aren’t as established as The Black Keys, as that is not only obvious but a fairly idiotic con on my part. Rather, the con is that Plastic Villains might be perceived as a rip off of sorts. This shouldn’t be the case, as they are very good and stand alone in the Bay Area music scene, but it sadly is what people will think.
It’s sort of akin to when *NSYNC came out after Backstreet Boys. At first, they were viewed as a competing rip off. Of course, sooner rather than later, Justin Timberlake found his own niche and became one of the biggest acts of our time — much less, *NSYNC had found fame through being a boy band alongside the “original” 90s boy band. Speaking of “original”, New Kids on the Block definitely had their say years before BSB even came to fruition. And before that, doo-wap groups like The Temptations were technically aligned in the same way latter-day boy bands were arranged. This all comes back to originality and the times. The Black Keys are seeing success now. Bands that will follow the same sound in this time period will be viewed as riding the curtails until they make a name for themselves. A band like Plastic Villains can be seen on their own soap box if they want to wait for The Black Keys to die in popularity. But at that point, you may be waiting decades. It’s really an issue of timing — something that may be a con more to some artists than others.
A true con to the band, however, is following this release with an even stronger release. This is just the beginning, so I can only assume they have yet to find their pace or hit their stride. However, they may suffer the fate of bands before them, who end up creating a big splash at first and are put on a pedestal… then fail to match that same quality in subsequent releases. In a similar vain, a band like Thursday came out with their sophomore album Full Collapse, followed by what I would consider an equally pleasing third album War All the Time. However, since those releases, I have failed to see another Thursday LP meet or exceed the genuine quality those two LPs generated for me. Rather, later releases seemed to be a rehashing of the same stuff they gave us on previous albums, just not as good. On the other hand, a band like Minus the Bear started out amazing with a very high standard to be met from their initial EPs. They came out with Highly Refined Pirates and blew even more minds. After a lull in releases, they came out with Menos el Oso, arguably their best album. From there, their talent grew and expanded into a sort-of empire of magic, even when the bar for their releases were set extremely high. It’s yet to be seen, whether Plastic Villains possess this ability to exceed their quality they have set with this EP, but I have seen very few bands do better than “amazing”. And the ones that do usually are the ones that stick around for a very long time.
Plastic Villains have a very special blend of smooth and raw, intricate and streamlined, expansive and thematic. The band’s been together in a time reasonably counted in months, and yet they sound as if they have been together for years, possibly decades. The song writing is fantastic, and suits all players within the band extremely well. They might have a problem trying to top themselves in future releases, as well as trying to escape a very large shadow of the much larger band The Black Keys, but if their next release (along with their stage show) is better than initially registered… they might have a fighting chance to be viewed as an amazing band aside from current scene context and in the context of good music. And rightfully so, as they should be viewed in that context already — especially with this release.