There may be thousands of rock bands out there, but not many of them play good old-fashioned, sha-la-la shaking, retro-fitted pop like the boys in Boston’s Spirit Kid. Let’s put our cynicism aside here. Sure, we’ve been there and done that multiple times—in the actual ‘60s themselves of course, then in follow-on scenes like the Paisley Underground and Elephant 6, etc—but that doesn’t make any of this any less pure or less interesting. It all just comes round again.
Spirit Kid’s Emeen Zarookian is one of the least cynical people you’re going to meet when talking about what feels right with his music. He admits right up front that his latest album “Is Happening” (which celebrates its release Friday at Great Scott with special guests Spirit Kid drummer Andy Sadoway and Pretty & Nice) isn’t going to break any new ground. It’s a sentiment uttered from the outset with the youthful vocals, Kinks meet Apples in Stereo’s guitar-splosion of “Everything is Old.” As far as he sees it, people just like what they like, and when it comes to ‘60s music—specifically well-constructed, high energy pop music with great singing and chord changes—he’s definitely happy doing his thing.
“It seems like people are often influenced [by] what came right before them, and I think that’s totally cool,” says Zarookian, hinting towards the current crop of influences du jour kicking around on the indie scene. “But I think people forget that a lot of that music is really great and has a special energy to it. I’m sure in the late ‘60s people got really sick of that stuff. They had been hearing nothing but blues form for ten years and they wanted to do something different, and they did it and that’s great, but I think you can listen to all of that stuff and have it be intellectual and interesting.”
But don’t get the impression that “Is Happening” just gives up on trying to do anything new—because it definitely doesn’t. The fresh ideas swirl all around the requisite period details in the same way that an interior decorator would carefully oscillate between different styles. Some tracks are straight-ahead, like the explosively effervescent “Slow It Down” (I’d be afraid to hear it sped up!). Others hint at the contemporary, yet obtuse pop experimentation of a band like Destroyer, such as “Miss Communication Breakdown,” which juxtaposes sections with different tempos, tones and textures. Kooky intuition. It’s all the more impressive that it was all recorded on tape.
“We ended up keeping a lot of things that were mistakes,” says Zarookian of the album’s myriad charms and foibles. The album was recorded over the bulk of 2013 with co-producer Jeremy Mendicino (Pretty & Nice) on drums and Zarookian on essentially everything else. “The tempos weren’t perfect, the parts weren’t perfect, and we ended up keeping long performances because that’s kind of how you do it. It ends up being cooler, I think.”
The release of “Is Happening” is a big step for Spirit Kid, who haven’t released a full-length album since their 2010 debut (there have been a splendid splattering of EPs and singles in the interim). And although this new record takes a major leap in terms of fidelity and cohesion, there is no doubt that it still keeps the “rambunctiousness” of the lo-fi spirit. Rock ‘n’ roll after all, must be not just heard but also felt. “I really don’t see a lot of bands doing what we are doing around here,” says Zarookian, reflecting on everything that is special about staying true to the classic pop virtues of hooks, riffs, changes, lyrics and melody. “When I was at SXSW I heard a million bands, but I realized that I wasn’t hearing any music that had chords in it. Finally we were walking by a band and I heard a minor-6th wasn’t just making tripped out noise or delay—and I was like WHOA!”