I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s often a bitter reminder of subsequent Valentine’s Days that consisted of too many beers, grocery bags full of comfort food, and lonely nights watching sappy television shows by myself. Yes, it’s a corporate window to commercialize on idealized versions of romance. And yes, it almost always results in a chocolate hangover.
The Oregon-based group The Memories is there to give a comforting pat on the shoulder with their newest album Rainy Day which debuted last Valentine’s day. With their first track, they take the theme of rainy days to heart, compounding simple and staggered rhythms with an overall muted filter that gives the impression of listening to a dusty 8-track jammed in the back of the glove compartment of your ex-girlfriend’s Volvo.
It’s hazy, subdued, and the beat seems to keep time with the windshield wipers as you coast down familiar boulevards. The overall blur of all the songs gives an immediate nostalgia reminiscent of The Mamas and The Papas, especially in “Bad Dreams”, which features an overlapping of back-up vocals over a trochaic guitar riff which belts out like sonar. Even though the album has the omnipresence of grey overcast skies, and delves into a kind of aimlessness and dead-end reflection, the ennui it’s trying to encompass with jams about girls, drugs, and dreams doesn’t clutter up their message or put us to sleep – quite the contrary, the boys from Portland have let the sometimes wet and miserable weather of their hometown punctuate their tracks with an ambiance that at once feels authentic and charged with a contemplative tide of emotion.
They follow it up with dichotomous tracks like the “Pessimism Song”, which has the same upbeat matter-of-factly attitude attached to lyrics that casually proclaim “I think I’m going to kill myself”. I like this contrast, between form and content, because it creates an imbalance which is never really resolved. It’s left open like a book in the rain, or a question that’s never answered directly, and it’s presented honestly and humbly – they aren’t flaunting themselves, and the charm of their self-deprecation never devolves into a maudlin sentimentality.
More than that, they’ve threaded into a seamless movement of sound that flows from one track to the next and establishes continuity, a key ingredient in turning a Rainy Day into a work of art we want to listen to again and again. One of the first things you’ll notice at the offset is how short each track is – the longest only carries on for just over two minutes, and there’s definitely strategy behind this decision. It holds our attention, and the delicate transitions from track to track are so subtle as to almost go unnoticed, especially with songs like “I’m Easy” at just under 50 seconds but laced with a Beach Boys-esque energy that’s simple and catchy. The appeal of simplicity is often understated, and The Memories ought to be lauded for their pared down approach on this album which gives a clipped and incredibly clean sound.
What was the tired acronym your old boss always used to recite like a mantra? Keep it simple, stupid? This group have certainly kept it simple with truncated songs and amiable voices which inspire our trust with their first impression, but they’ve done it with wit, integrity, and a tempered musical talent.