On Honenuki, Polkadot Stingray prove more entertaining than watching caged monkeys fighting over, well, a polkadot stingray, let’s hope they’re this entertaining when they leave the cage.
Artist: Polkadot Stingray
Album: Honenuki E.P.
A circle can have only one center. So said a famous musician when booting a rival songwriter out of his band. But who says that a band needs to be a circle. Polkadot Stingray has two or more centers, and prove that an ellipse is quite a bit more interesting than a circle.
Within the band, who are those centers? Well, singers always have the advantage, they stand in front, they get to use words and tones, and Polkadot Stingray’s got a dynamite singer. She knows how to crack her voice at just the right moment to crack your heart. She carries hooks that will lead you through the song by the lip. But they’ve also got that guitar player. He sounds like he hasn’t played a chord with at least a 7th in it since he was five. Little guitar fills are opportunities for micro-Van Halen eruptions. It’s fitting that in the video for breakout single “Telecaster Stripes” when it’s time for the solo, the video jump cuts to show him behind the mic stand.
Their relationship in the band is clearly competitive, but it’s good competition in that it pushes them to outdo each other. Their songs sound like an ellipse shot out of a cannon, streaking through the air in an irregular trajectory.
That’s not to say that the drummer or bassist are slouches. To the contrary, they sound like they are having a blast with stop-start rhythms that would normally sound more at home in a Fugazi song than upbeat indie rock.
But great instrumental skill is nothing next to a great song. So the real question is whether Polkadot Stingray can deliver the goods. Upbeat indie rock would be the best way to describe the band’s sound, but that doesn’t quite capture it. The songs have the bounce to make you dance, the hooks to make you pop, and the chops to blow you away. In other words, the band is a sort of manic pixie dream. If you’re not careful, they might convince you to break into a zoo and set the animals free.
Interestingly, though, on Honenuki, the band sounds somewhat caged. They’ve picked a sound and nailed it: scritch-scratch show-off guitars, brilliant vocal hooks, and complex rhythmic interplay. But, if the guitar tone changes between songs its hard to tell. No keyboards, no bleep-bloops, not even a single didgeridoo enter the mix at any point. There is even similarity in how the songs are structured. In two of the songs, verse one features vocal, bass, and drums; verse two features vocal, funkier bass, and drums. While the songwriting is interesting on a song-by-song basis, the similarity between songs is undeniable.
One might call the similarity between songs a focus, or even a self-imposed constraint. In those terms, the band succeeds mightily at bouncing off the walls of their cell. The question is, what’s next? A forty minute album in the same style might be redundant, or worse, exhausting. Can they keep up this level of quality if they branch out? Here’s hoping they can.
On Honenuki, Polkadot Stingray show that they have mastered their own, well-defined kingdom, here’s looking forward to their next conquest.