The Brooklyn band Suckers is in the right place at the right time. Aside from calling New York their home, as so many breakout bands have done lately, Suckers also wear their influences proudly on their sleeves. And they don’t model their sound after crappy bands. One listen to the band’s 2009 self-titled EP would point bring to mind David Bowie or Modest Mouse, and maybe even a little bit of Animal Collective. In other words, Suckers aren’t playing around. After signing to Frenchkiss Records following that debut EP, they’re finally out with their first full length album this week, titled “Wild Smile”.
What “Wild Smile” has to offer you is a clever little game where you try and pick out what a particular song sounds similar to. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Black Sheep”, which is like TV on the Radio if they were a louder, brasher psych-pop band. Other times it’s as challenging as the 6-minute album opener “Save Your Love for Me”, which moves from a pre-“Moon and Antarctica” Modest Mouse vibe to a mid-80s David Bowie and into classic Prince with lead vocalist Quinn Walker adopting a falsetto that he nails but makes you question if it’s a smart move. You know the phrase “there’s a fine line between clever and stupid”? Sometimes across this album it feels like that applies to Suckers. The falsetto makes a couple other appearances on the album, and each time it feels just a little out of place despite its overall strength. If you’ve got it, flaunt it I guess. Vocals aside, there’s more than a few 80s synth-pop baiting tunes on the album, but there’s also a severe psychedelic angle the band tries to take for a few tracks, and that’s closer cousins with an Animal Collective, MGMT or Yeasayer. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Yeasayer’s own Anand Wilder produced “Wild Smile”, along with the band’s debut EP. The vocal harmonies and occasional tribal drumming are where Wilder’s push is apparent, and that’s not always a bad thing.
The problem with “Wild Smile” is in its execution. The sequencing of the album is very precise to evoke certain moods and play to the strength of certain possible singles, but despite doing the best they can, the record simply does not flow. Chances are no matter what order the tracks were in, it still wouldn’t flow properly. There’s too much sonic disparagement across the wide range of influences this band is pushing. In other words, they’re trying to play to multiple genres and influences at the same time, and what results is an unfocused and slightly frustrating record. When you go from the chant along Modest Mouse-ian single “It Gets Your Body Movin'” to a light Afropop Vampire Weekend-y song like “Martha” to the synth-laden Walkmen-esque “King of Snakes”, there are some disconnects along the way. That, plus while you’re looking for all the different influences on these songs, you come to the realization that while these songs are compelling and generally engaging to listen to, they’re not as good as the actual source material Suckers are drawing from.
That said, “Wild Smile” is by no means a bad album. In fact, it’s quite good. Taken song by song, single by single, there’s plenty to like and plenty that will stick in your head for days and possibly weeks. Suckers know how to write a compelling melody and hooks, and ignoring their garden’s variety of influences or the occasional odd falsetto, you could easily find this among the better things released recently. They do try and pull off some challenging melodies, and for the most part succeed, even if it turns out slightly weaker than some of the artists they’re trying to pay homage to. Keeping in mind that this is their full length debut, Suckers are setting themselves up for a potentially great career ahead. Now if only they’d make a firm decision on their musical style and stick with it for more than a couple tracks.