Not many bands can pull off New Wave without piling on irony and pomp reminiscent of art-school majors. On its latest CD (Bakers Can’t Be Choosers: as earnest as it is effervescent), The Baker Family Band filters New Wave through the lens of 20 years of post-punk rock ‘n’ roll, surfacing clean and fortified by soul-searching lyrics about politics, the familial landscape and even faith.
This take on faith in rock music is rising in popularity among artists like Jeremy Enigk, Danielson, Sufjan Stevens and Wovenhand. But, while Bakers’ front man Stuart Baker (who holds all the brooding intensity of a young Peter Murphy) admits his faith plays a part in his lyric writing, his is not a Christian band.
What The Baker Family Band is, exactly, is nearly as nebulous as the stuff of world religions. The Bakers’ biggest challenge is to clearly define their emerging style while keeping true to what makes them so promising.
Choosers makes moves in that direction. It’s a departure from the band’s previous album, Transaction—a nice collection of Americana Shoegaze, yet a sound that could easily be lost in the regional trend. The majority of Choosers’ tracks, on the other hand, capture an edgier, harder pop vibe that embraces the heavy percussiveness and keyboard art-rock sounds of TV on the Radio and Radiohead. Meanwhile, the contrast between Stuart’s ruminative lyrics and the sweet voice of keyboardist (and wife) Elizabeth Baker result in a sonic experience on par with Jeremy Enigk (post Sunny Day Real Estate) and Sufjan Stevens.
At the Bakers’ Grey Eagle CD release party, I found myself singing along with a funny smile on my face, while peering around the crowd. A few people bounced about with tambourines and maracas while the Bakers sang about “building a ring around your heart.” I didn’t rush the stage to grab a tambourine, but I did dig the handclap songs custom-made to bring the audience into the “family.” The Bakers have a few good hit makers on their new disc: I’d add the title track to a cardio mix in a heartbeat. But the true dark horse hits are “Paper Moon,” “On the Contrary” and “Channeled Control.”
During the live version of “Channeled Control,” Stuart sings, “Praise the new moon, in the committee room, you’ve got to sing a new word, don’t just repeat what you’ve heard,” then sprints off into the crowd, running laps around the audience only to return to his mike stand and continue where he left off. “Remote control over millions of people, Lord grant me channeled control, channeled control,” he pleads as he wraps himself up into the microphone cord, and writhes to the floor without missing a syncopated beat.
I may not get out much, but I do get this.
The Baker Family Band performs at POPAsheville, slated for Jan. 16-18.