Sunday, November 28, 2010

CD Review: The Like: Release Me

I first saw  L.A. girlgroup The Like perform at a Christmas shindig thrown by Indie 1031 in 2005 . At that time, their songs were well-constructed and had catchy melodies, but there wasn’t much else to distinguish them from the crop of  indie-pop bands battling for airplay in the mid-2000s.

The Like‘s first CD  Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? gained some airplay on Indie1031 and other alt-rock outlets. The female trio consisted of singer Z Berg , drummer Tennessee Thomas  and original bass player Charlotte Froom. Rock critics made a point of noting that the young women, barely out of their teens,, were the daughters of music industry bigwigs. Their paternal connections may have helped the band get their bearings, but their songs proved they had the raw talent to make it on their own.

Five years have passed and the band has reinvented itself. Bassist Charlotte Froom left, and was replaced by Laena Geronimo. They bulked up their sound by adding organ player Annie Monroe. The line-up changes aren’t the only difference. On the Like’s second album, Release Me,  the band has turned things up to 11 and redefined their mission by implementing a retro 60s pop sound. It comes complete with pitch-perfect Ronettes’ harmonies, Vox organ flourishes, and feisty lyrics about cheating boyfriends and one-night stands. 

Producer Mark Ronson, who guided Amy Winehouse to success on Back to Black, helped transform The Like from a so-so alt-pop band to a gutsy garage-rock outfit. Think of an updated, all-female version of the Easybeats or the Zombies. The lyrics on Release Me, much like the lyrics on Winehouse’s  Back in Black show a maturity unusual for the frothy four minute mod pop. From “Narcissus in a Red Dress" - “One minute, she's your best friend/Then you watch her take your place/I guess that taught them all the same/You clever little charlatans/Ambition gleams in overdrive”  

Songs run the gamut from the gauzy arrangement of “Narcissus in a Red Dress” to the roaring, Donnas-influenced rock of “Wishing He Was Dead.” “Why When Love is Gone” sounds like a soulful Dusty Springfield number, with a sturdy but subtle rhythm section guilelessly carrying the song.

 Release Me packs a retro 60s Mod punch, but the band also delivers live. Clips of their show from the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London demonstrate a newfound onstage confidence. Z Berg now has her own take on the sassy rock ‘n’ roll girl who don’t take no b.s. With her short blonde bob, eyeliner and heavy fake eyelashes she mimics “60s model Twiggy, but her vocals are part Shangri-La attitude, part smooth Bangles-era Susanna Hoffs.

Drummer Tennessee Thomas provides the vigorous backbeat, and has a blast doing it..the girls have matured and added the right touches to their initial indie-pop formula, spicing it up with Vox organ, girl-group harmonies and grown-up storylines. And they’ve traded Are You Thinking’s  PG-rated version of kinderwhore waif dresses to geometric print mini-dresses completing the transition from alt-pop princesses to retro-60s rock divas. 

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