Social Studies' first full-length, Wind Up Wooden Heart shows off the band’s way with brainy, unpredictable indie pop. One moment, they sound like Broadcast, if that band deigned to record on Earth instead of their spaceship studio; the next, they recall Cryptacize's percussion experiments and vocal gymnastics; and every now and then, shades of Fol Chen's kaleidoscope pop spring up without warning. Wind Up Wooden Heart arrives three years after Social Studies' debut EP, This Is the World’s Biggest Hammer, and the band sounds impatient to show how far it's come since then. Opening track “Charioteers” is especially dazzling, switching back and forth from Natalia Rogovin's aloof vocals and keyboards to brass with an epic flair that suggests Ben Hur transformed into an indie pop operetta. What follows isn’t quite as breathlessly inventive, although songs such as the dreamy “Pile of Words” and “The Good Book” show that Rogovin and crew can be heartfelt as well as intellectual. While their more straightforward forays into indie pop are often charming, Social Studies really come alive when they give into their wilder, sometimes darker impulses. “Drag a Rake” piles on the drama with strings and intricate, intuitive percussion; “Holler Boys” dances, marches, and looks inward; and “Time Bandit”'s mysterious stream-of-consciousness pop lives up to its name, its expressive tempo shifts making it a standout. The band’s willingness to experiment occasionally gets Social Studies into trouble, as on the meandering “Trapdoor Spider,” but that’s a small price to pay for an album this intriguing and promising.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares