3 out of 5
Label: Expansion Team Records, LLC
Produced by: Dan the Automator
When we’re young, our music inclinations make us want to “be in a band,” or if you’re the solo type, the more nebulous want to “make music.” And then countless bands’ histories trace a similar lineage, with slightly different formations of the group until a somewhat more consistent lineup settles into place for that album you so dearly love.
With some of that lineage in the rearview, we get the latter-years version if it: Side projects, splinter groups. Super groups. And I wonder at the mentality that motivates that final set: Do you know you’re forming a supergroup? Is it just for kicks, or do you imagine some path where you all quit your day jobs to dedicate yourself to this new (super) venture? Did Russel Simins assess his John Spencer downtime and think it was high time he put his own rock chops to the test? Or did a few ideas just turn into inviting friends – Dan the Automator to produce, Sean Lennon and Nick Zinner and more adding flourishes – to drop an album with an admittedly amusing name when comboed with the band name?
I’m sure someone’s documented the flow somewhere. Regardless, the result of such meetings, granted that you’re on board with the main contributor’s style, is often pretty fun: perhaps something about the abandon of treating something like a one-off, which this album would seem to be. All the better, because it’s hard to imagine this type of aggressively poppy pop stretched out over multiple albums, but isolated down to 13 tracks which could all be singles, it’s a pretty fine time.
The sound is fairly close to what you might imagine: isolate the JSBX beats and minus the Elvis-y identity that requires the group to put on a weird, counter-culture swagger; combine that with the post-Handsome Boy Modeling School / Gorillaz sensibilities of producer Nakamura: instantly accessible toe-tapping pop rockers.
Which shouldn’t be seen as a knock on Simins’ craft: there’s a sense of humor here, but the songs aren’t dumb – not necessarily deep but not dumb – and musically, the catchiness distracts from how busy a lot of the tracks are. Still, as a “supergroup,” you get the sort of scattering of styles that prevent the thing from solidifying into a solid experience as opposed to a happening of fun songs. At the same time, Simins and Automator prove to be a formidable duo in terms of keeping things on track, making Naturally a more memorable jam session than these flash-in-the-pan teamups tend to be.