Hard Times Are in Fashion

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Koufax pack quite a punch and swagger on their indie-tastic long-player Hard Times Are in Fashion. Searching for musical touchstones might lead one to reference Brainiac without that band's manic energy, a mixed dose of Thom Yorke's modern whine and Rufus Wainwright's gargled glee, and an almost unsettling resemblance to the Walkmen. The racket these five lads muster really does make them a dead ringer for the Walkmen, as fuzzy guitars, piano highlights, cymbal-heavy drums, and frontman Robert Suchan's crooning wail all act as perfect mimics to the Walkmen's pounding and frazzled oeuvre. It's important to ignore the way some critics have emphasized Koufax as a piano band. While Jared Rosenberg's piano is omnipresent, it isn't abused in Ben Folds Five fashion or used as an overly sappy device à la Keane or Coldplay. Instead, it's merely another instrument, sometimes battling Suchan and Ben Force's guitars point for point, other times blending deftly into the background. The album is infused with subtle political and social commentary, relating mostly to the war in Iraq, the Bush presidency, and foreigners' apparent increasing disgust with The American Way. But Koufax don't pound a listener over the head with their politics. Indeed, the two most political songs ("Blind Faith" and "Colour Us Canadian") are nuanced mood pieces, the former a tender ballad and the second a bouncy, only-slightly angry lament. "Colour Us Canadian" is particularly compelling, with Suchan describing the bandmembers' need to pretend they are Canadian as they travel the world to avoid the castigation that Americans sometimes face. If one were to call any strikes against Hard Times Are in Fashion, they would most certainly relate to how similar Koufax sounds to the Walkmen. Again, it's a truly uncanny resemblance that can't be overemphasized throughout the entire album, and thus it's a mixed blessing. It's quite strange that other critics quoted in the album's press release have compared Koufax to Van Dyke Parks, the Cure, the Smiths, Elvis Costello, Hall & Oates (a major stretch), ELO, and Squeeze. Fans of any of those bands will be disappointed if they're recommended Koufax as a descendant. Early Radiohead or Pavement with a piano, perhaps. A less electro Girls Against Boys with more pop and a tamer swagger, maybe. But those who have played their Walkmen albums to death and are looking for a similar fix should leap without haste upon this album.

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