12:24pm

Mon February 25, 2013
Music Reviews

Guards: Anthems With Gravitas

Originally published on Mon February 25, 2013 1:38 pm

Guards is a New York band that just released its first full-length album, In Guards We Trust. In "Nightmare," the album's first track, you hear layered vocals and echoing drum thumps — it's like an inviting dream. Guards' music is big on atmospherics: When the band puts together a song called "Ready to Go," it really makes it sound as if revving up to launch itself on a serious expedition.

"We're up and ready to go," Richie Follin sings in that song, and Guards is the sort of band that sounds as if it could actually rouse itself for an early-morning departure. Where many rock bands seem to exist in an eternal nighttime of club or arena performances and dark after-show adventures, Guards has little use for that. Its members can speed up their dreamy sound to dramatize the feeling of chipper optimism, as they do in "Silver Lining."

In that song, various influences pop up. The band clears vast sonic terrain, creating billowing melodies that sweep across a song with reverberating vocals and guitars that bellow and chime, ringing out in long, sustained notes. There's a grandness of intent that connects Guards to groups as varied as U2, Arcade Fire and Smile-era Beach Boys. Guards isn't up to the level of those acts in terms of songcraft yet — words are employed primarily as additional sound effects rather than vehicles for any sort of complex thought. Which is not to say that Richie Follin chanting the phrase "A girl like you" in the chorus of "Coming True" isn't an ample emotional reward.

At a time in music when pop, rock, country and hip-hop acts all strain to create anthems that will inspire sing-along devotion in large-size audiences, Guards — a band that's only been around for a few years and has released comparatively little music — is already well on its way to giving the anthem form more interest and gravitas than musicians with far more experience.

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Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Guards is a New York-based band that just released its first full-length album, called "In Guards We Trust." The group specializing in sweeping choruses and lush production. Rock critic Ken Tucker has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NIGHTMARE")

GUARDS: (Singing) I was lost without you. I felt the strength. Why couldn't you? I escaped, no thanks to you. Don't be afraid. We'll get out too. Oh, it's hot. Yeah, it's hot in here. Oh, it's hot like a nightmare. Oh, it's hot...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's "Nightmare," the lead-off track on Guard's debut album "In Guards We Trust." With its layered vocals and echoing drum thumps, "Nightmare" is more like an inviting dream. Guards are big on atmospherics. When they put together a song called "Ready to Go," they really makes it sound as if revving up to launch itself on a serious expedition.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READY TO GO")

GUARDS: (Singing) You're the only who drives my heart. You're the only one to (unintelligible) what I already know. We're up and ready to go. We're up and ready to go. We're up and ready to go. We're up and ready to go. We're up and ready to go...

TUCKER: We're up and ready to go, sings Richie Follin on that song, and Guards is the sort of band that sounds as though it could actually rouse itself for an early-morning departure. Where many rock bands seem to exist in an eternal nighttime of club or arena performances and dark after-show adventures, Guards has little use for that sort of thing. They can speed up their dreamy sound to dramatize the feeling of chipper optimism, as they do on "Silver Lining."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILVER LINING")

GUARDS: (Singing) You say I'm in the middle of something. Now you got me in the middle of something now. Oh, yeah. You say you took it from the bottom measure, the one and only simple pleasure now. Oh, yeah. I wanna live forever on a boat out in the sea. I want to build a happy home for you and me. I want to touch the silver lining who'll be shining everywhere. I want to live forever. I don't care.

TUCKER: You can hear various influences in Guards' music. The band clears vast sonic terrain, creating billowing melodies that sweep across a song with reverberating vocals, guitars that bellow and chime, ringing out in long, sustained notes. There's a grandness of intent that connects them to groups as various as U2, Arcade Fire, and the Beach Boys in their "Smile" period.

Guards certainly isn't up to the level of those acts in terms of songcraft yet, and they use words primarily as additional sound effects rather than vehicles for any sort of complex thought. Which is not to say that Richie Follin chanting the phrase a girl like you in this song, "Coming True," isn't an ample emotional reward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMING TRUE")

GUARDS: (Singing) Tell me how to plant the seed. Tell me how to grow the leaves when it comes to you in your need. If I were to take the lead, teach me how to turn the key. Tell me how to set you free. Now it's all coming true. What's a boy supposed to do with a girl, a girl like you? A girl like you. A girl like you. A girl like you. A girl like you.

TUCKER: At a time in music when pop, rock, country and hip-hop acts all regularly strain to create anthems that will inspire sing-along devotion in large-size audiences, Guards - which has only been around for a few years and has released comparatively little music - is already well on its way to giving the anthem form more interest and gravitas than musicians with far more experience.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is FRESH AIR's rock critic. He reviewed "In Guards We Trust." You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org; follow us on Twitter at #nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.