The Stevens

A History of Hygiene

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It's not a shock to learn that one of the guys behind the Stevens' Flying Nun-loving sound is also in the Twerps. Like that band, the Stevens are on the brilliant Australian label Chapter Music and they write short, snappy pop songs that are scruffy and oddly pretty at the same time. The Stevens lean more toward the ragged end of the Flying Nun spectrum, sounding more like the Clean than the Chills, with a large dollop of a Guided by Voices-style shorter-is-better view on songwriting added, too. Their debut album, A History of Hygiene, is jammed to the limit with 24 songs that careen wildly from pillar to post, saunter with devious intent, and impel you to sing along at top volume. The twin guitar jangle of Travis MacDonald and Alex MacFarlane is pushed forward by the bass and drums of Gus Lord and Matt Harkin, respectively, joining together in a perfect lo-fi, loose jumble of sound that's topped by the two Macs' laconic vocals and wittily offhanded lyrics. It's a time-honored sound, but the quartet does it all kinds of justice, making sure that each of the 24 songs has a big-hearted hook that keeps the listener riveted to see what will come next. Repeated listens do nothing to quell the sense of breathless anticipation and happy surprise that happens time after time as the album rambles and rolls ahead joyously. To list the songs that stand out would be a simple recitation of the track list; better merely to state that the album holds together as a seamless listening experience, but almost any song could be plucked from the running order to become a high point of a noise pop mixtape. Even the more abstract songs with neither words nor much structure -- stuck in between tracks like little breathers -- have melodies or cool sounds that hook you instantly. The entire album is really just one giant hook, one immediately lovable indie pop gem after another, that will have you hitting repeat time and time again. And filing this album next to favorites by NZ heroes, Amerindie giants, and indie pop be pulled out anytime you need a jolt of scruffy energy that hits hard and sticks around for a long time.

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