w/the Cops, Slender Means, No-Fi Soul Rebellion
Fri July 1, Sunset, 9 pm, $7.
"Forty years ago, this album would have been written from a high schooler's perspective," says Derby frontman Nat Johnson of his band's debut, This Is the New You. "It's all about being in that state of limbo after college, wondering, 'Am I going be a professional barista for the rest of my life?'"
His little elucidation couldn't be more poignant. How many of us found ourselves clutching that BFA, looking around and saying: "What the hell do we do now?"
But being directionless does afford time to dream, a pastime Derby are very familiar with. Their hazy, layered power-pop is the sort of stuff Sloan could make if they spent afternoons lying in a field gazing pie-eyed at the clouds. Much like that great Canadian concern, Portland's Derby churn out hit after hit, but trade in the blatant classic-rock rip-offs and hyperactive genre shifts for swirly keyboards and infectious power chords. The foursome stack one crunchy power chord on top of another, wrapping it all in retro organ licks, and hitting it home with soaring, note-perfect harmony vocals—arriving on the NW power-pop scene with their shit fully together.
Acoustic-plucked and keyboard-tinged album opener "Jet Set" sets a soft, pensive mood, only to have the tone slapped awake by the wave of chords that is "Qualities." Mid-album tracks like "Parade" and "This Conversation" are chock full of Beatles-style ascending chord progressions, falsetto vocals (sung without a faux-British accent!), and handclaps, all of which give it a spacey Elliott Smith flavor. In addition, Derby's fetish for '70s a.m. radio and stadium riffage nicely elevates them above your standard-issue indie pop of today.
And despite Johnson's explanation of the early 20s malaise, his lyrics lean toward the impressionistic and vague, with such admissions as, "I'm a bit of everything/of everyone" and "What am I doing?/What am I proving?" Johnson chalks the lyrical haziness up to that early career confusion.
Aside from drummer Isaac Frost, the Derby boys all work day jobs not remotely related to their college degrees. "This album is kind of a photograph of where we've all been after college," he says. "I mean, you find yourself wondering 'What's happiness?' Is it following your dreams, or doing what your parents did?"
New You was recorded in the band's basement, which is pretty impressive given it sounds like a satellite-sized mic was held to each note. Their vocals blend straight into the keyboard shimmers, and at times the members' harmon- izing is eerily identical. It makes you wonder if they're all secretly production whizzes, or if they just naturally sound that good together.
Live, Derby are utterly transfixing. The sunny effects of New You are completely stripped away, presenting instead four dudes playing fuzzed-out songs free of pretensions. They create a wall of rock that's damn near hypnotic—not to mention Johnson is, like, 10 feet tall and looks like he stepped out of an American Apparel ad. The raw energy they throw down live has been rumored to have engaged one Portland audience so much that the bar was left empty during their entire set.
So, if the live show is that intense, why dress it up in tight production on record?
"All that energy we have onstage isn't guaranteed to come across on the album," explains Johnson bluntly. "Live, we actually get to strip 'er all down and let 'er go."
Since self-releasing New You last February, Derby have burned just about every stretch of Northwest road leading to a rock club. "The fact that we get to go play to an audience where no one knows us is the greatest thing," says Johnson. "I mean we always just get together before each show and say 'Let's just blow 'em away!'"
Now that New You is receiving a proper release via Seattle label Roslyn Recordings, Derby plan on hitting the road at 10-day intervals, at least until they can quit their day jobs. "This is our album and we want to play as much as we can for it," says Johnson. "I mean that's the other great half of this life... performing."
With enthusiasm like that, who needs that college degree anyway? ■