It took a few listens, but oh my goodness THE BITTERS’ debut LP East General is stunning. After the first run-through, I thought it was good; I liked a couple of tracks. I liked how one of the tracks was essentially two completely different songs taped together. That was about it. But as I kept listening to the album, it slowly started creeping into me; this band’s sound is stone-solid and unmistakably consistent. It reminds me of BEACH HOUSE in that regard. Obviously not the sound itself. This is more lo-fi 60s psychedelic garage pop than the dream pop that Scally and Legrand create. That THE BITTERS displays such a consistent and unique sound on every track on their debut LP reminds me of how BEACH HOUSE came into the game with its own fully-realized sound. No matter which song it is, you know it’s THE BITTERS; you know it’s BEACH HOUSE. And every song on the album is solid. Obviously some are much better than others, but much like what happened with BEACH HOUSE’s self-titled debut and its foreshadowing of an eventual epic, 2010’s Teen Dream, THE BITTERS’ debut suggests there are great things to come from this fresh, new self-aware band.
THE BITTERS is a Canadian boy/girl duo from Toronto. The boy is Ben Cook (YOUNG GOVERNOR, FUCKED UP). He handles vocals, guitars and the bass. The chick is Aerin Fogel. She handles vocals, the organ, the sax, synths and drums. They are as unique and oddly polished a duo as anything out there. And they’re amidst a movement of gritty, lo fidelity pop-rock that doesn’t seem to have an impending end anywhere in sight. THE BITTERS just slammed their flag into the ground hard with East General. And ain’t nothing gonna be blowing that bitch down anytime soon.
Don’t be confused by the fact that both members sing, this is Fogel’s band. And even though Cook is an excellent vocalist as YOUNG GOVERNOR, this whole sound is hooked to Fogel; she’s a beheamoth of a vocalist. Her voice feels like it weighs a ton, and she’s reckless with her vocal chords when she goes off. On East, for instance, Fogel ends the track sounding like it might cost her the subsequent day of talking. Badass. And what makes Fogel so intriguing is that along with her booming voice, she is also a kick-ass multi-instrumentalist. In addition to being a vocal show-0ff for Fogel, East also boasts an amazing saxophone solo that should be so out of place but actually ends up fitting perfectly. And she also mans the drums on the album.
East General opens with Wild Beast, fittingly. These two up-and-comers strike a thick, infectious guitar riff accompanied by a fully reverbed-out, lo-fi, almost scary background line. It’s just that guitar work and a pretty sparse drum beat. That’s pretty much it. But these are merely there to cradle Fogel’s vocals, and the introduction could not be more apropos. The majority of the album is a nice give and take between Cook’s phenomenal production and Fogel’s astounding vocal work. This is not to slight Cook at all; he’s a great vocalist in his own right, and is likely the brainchild behind THE BITTERS. But this lives and dies by Fogel’s voice. By East General‘s second track, Nurtured Disease, the band maintains the serious, high-stakes tone of the first single. But they give us a tease of the dancey tendencies they incorporate later, and throughout the album; sometimes at odd times. And this song, Nurtured Disease, exemplifies that with its kinda come-out-of-nowhere shake-that-ass chorus.
You realize the potential of THE BITTERS when you get to the fourth track, No Anchor. It sounds like something you’d hear at pistol duel in an old Western. But instead of drawing and firing when the chorus drops, everybody starts dancing like the sand under their feet were suddenly a beach’s. And then the end becomes a super dramatic, minimalist echo chamber for a second before returning to one final verse. That’s just the nature of this beast, East General; Cook and Fogel change genre on you mid-song. And nowhere is that more evident than on Travelin’ Girl, which starts out like it should be the song of the Summer of 2010. It’s got a great lo-fi twangy guitar jangle driving the verses, which are backed by sick bass and drum lines. Fogel’s vocals are lighter here than on some of the album’s darker tracks. And Cook’s guitar and vocal work are on fire.
But that’s just the track’s first half. At 1:48, Travelin’ Girl completely changes, turning into a high-stakes, epic rock song with an occasionally thumping bass line. The second half is driven by an ominous drum beat and a slow, cold guitar line. It sounds like Fogel is singing, “Sometimes I wonder, just what I’m looking for in a girl / Is this the best way to realize what I already know?” By the end of the track, drums are crashing all around her and Cook is destroying his guitar. The second half of Travelin’ Girl is one of the best moments you’ll hear all year. No doubt.
Impatient As Can Be is the album standout, boasting the catchiest verses and chorus. It is the most put-together track on East General, and it’s the closest THE BITTERS have come to revisiting the pop sensibilities of Warrior, a classic off the band’s EP, Wooden Glove. Impatient As Can Be is the album’s danciest track, with a drum beat echoed by claps. The guitar line is simple. It’s just made for some dancing. The vocals are cool and catchy. And the chorus is perfect, as Fogul whines, “What am I to doooo?” “I’m tired of being good, I’m getting bored.”
The New Real Way is another of the album standouts. It opens sounding as though it were paced by a late 1800s Army drummer-boy. But one who’s been through the shit. The chorus is the clearest throwback to the past on East General. It’s frightening to imagine what this band can become, having so many unique nuances in their music; relying on what seems out of place for consistency, ironically. This album is terrific, but it’s not THE BITTERS’ best work. It’s the best they’ve done thus far, for sure. But it’s just not their best. That’s going to come later. They’ll prob eventually make something amazing.