John Andrews & the Yawns / John Andrews

Bit by the Fang

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Multi-instrumentalist John Andrews is the only member of John Andrews & the Yawns, a solo project posing as a band and offering up a scattering of warm and familiar, dreamy indie pop on strong yet homey debut Bit by the Fang. Modeled after classic rock heroes both obscure and well-loved, Andrews' tunes stroll along jauntily from the beginning, evoking the psyched-out tea party vibes that popsike dandies like Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt perfected on their late-'60s/early-'70s albums. Tunes like "Don't Spook the Horses" and the haunted, Western-tinged "Hear Me Out" center around Andrews' strained, multi-tracked falsetto vocals and fractured, home-spun recording techniques heavy on manipulated tape echo effects. Andrews also worked as a member of folk-rocking indie camp Woods, so the similarities between his solo songs and those of his band are plentiful, from a likeness between his vocals and those of Woods' Jeremy Earl to the muted, mellow overall aura that attaches itself to both groups' recordings. On tunes like the airy "Peace of Mind," Andrews taps into the same Kinks worship that his dazed contemporary Mac DeMarco sometimes investigates. This conversational, lighthearted approach works to even greater effect when it obscures the often dark-hearted lyrical sentiments that are often hidden just below the songs' surfaces. "I'll Go to Your Funeral (If You Go to Mine)" is a perfect example of this and one of the best songs on the record, blending the looseness of Basement Tapes-era Dylan with the offhanded songwriting Ray Davies was on a hot streak with during mid-period Kinks records like Muswell Hillbillies. Bit by the Fang rarely makes its points through exclamation, opting for a far more lackadaisical and understated feel, but that doesn't take away from its highly nuanced sense of songwriting and arrangement. Though outwardly easygoing, the album is silently packed full of strange and sometimes worrisome moments of musical psychedelia and lyrical horror stories, baked into a crust of pleasant melodies and what seem like unassuming, stoned pop tunes. Repeated listening brings the darkness a little more to the surface, but also endears these unrefined but deceptively strong songs as a whole.

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