On the Chewing Gum Ground
It was a little surprising to hear that young local band Wallpaper had scored a deal to release their debut full-length on K Records. For one thing, K almost never seems to work with Seattle bands, instead filling its regional stable with acts from its own Olympia, as well as from Portland, Anacortes, Bellingham, Boise—almost forming a shield around our city out of highway-connected dots. Then I remembered that Wallpaper are actually from Auburn. For another thing, every time I've seen the band live, they've been shambolic and poorly mixed, even by K's forgiving DIY standards. But the band have grown mightily in the last year, and on On the Chewing Gum Ground they sound as perfectly balanced between the rough and the smooth as anything on K.
As the album title suggests, Wallpaper build on a foundation of bubblegum pop. Their guitars are carefully calibrated for maximum '50s garage tone, their rhythms are loose, their melodies sunny and sticky, and their lyrics—laid out in cutesy cut-and-paste typewriter text in their liner notes—are as sweet and calorically empty as candy.
But they're not stupid; the band are clearly devoted students at the school of rock. Lead singer Derek Kelley dreams about Elvis and Kurt Cobain ("Pop Rocket"), sings about "Beatle boots" and "blue suede shoes" ("Auto Bop"), attempts to coin dance crazes ("Nod Off"), and invites the girls to come to Wallpaper's "Rock & Roll World." Kelley sings tunefully, with an affected slacker drawl that recalls Stephen Malkmus's Pavement days more than it does any of this album's more historic name-checks, and he and the band handily churn out songs that roller-coast between lazy and antic like the mood swings of pop's idealized teenager.
The references and reverence don't come off as self-conscious or contrived, though; for Wallpaper, it's all just "culture hanging on the wall."