You know who’s had an awesome year? Animal Collective. Grizzly Bear. The Dirty Projectors. But good old-fashioned indie pop? Not so much. Just as critics and bloggers get ready to sit down and compile 2009’s best albums, along comes the third full-length from a band no one has ever paid much attention to—a viable effort at filling the considerable hole in this year’s power-pop offerings. Setting the Paces sees Seattle-based BOAT continuing to mask their clever melodies and interesting instrumental interplay with off-the-wall subject matter. In a goofy deadpan bellow, former schoolteacher David Crane rattles off lyrics that might’ve been lifted from a middle-schooler’s Mad Libs: “If you want to be a giant _______ , just clap your hands” (centipede); “You can de-claw your pets, but _______ ” (your black sofa will still be a mess).
Yet amid the nonsensical tirades is a very human mix of self-deprecation and ego-fueled sneer. They’re like Sour Patch Kids. In “God Save the Man Who Isn’t All That Super,” Crane reveals to a girl that all the great things he told her about himself are lies. In a section that could be described as post-twee, there are shakers, a drum-and-vocal volley, and the line, “I never lived in New York City/My grades in school are suffering weekly/I’m not as super as I used to seem.” Then a rush of power-metal very much informed by Weezer, complete with four-part harmonizing “ohhh’s!” and flippant talk about how he’s going to come home with a paycheck.
Here and there are brief lapses in the onslaught of hooks (“You’re Muscular”) and moments burdened by the band trying to do too much (“Lately”), but that’s an admirable complaint for a genre that’s been coasting by on a 10-track/verse-chorus album formula for too many years now. With another meaty 14-song chunk of jokes, bells and whistles, and off-kilter song structures under their belt, it’s clear that there’s something much more sophisticated at work than BOAT would ever let on.