If there is a universal truth among people who dedicate their lives to music, either the creation of it or the consumption it, it is that each generation bemoans the slow but gradual decline in the art of songwriting. Perhaps the greatest declaration of this took place during the 2007 World Series of Pop Culture on VH-1. Two groups of trivia buffs, people who had dedicated their lives to knowing everything worth knowing about pop culture, were asked to guess the name of a hit from 2006 (the previous year, mind you), when given a piece of the lyrics.
Neither team got a single one right.
Finally, one of the contestants said to the host, “I don’t mean to sound like an old fogey, but today’s songs are terrible!” The crowd erupted into applause, and curiously, there was no 2008 World Series of Pop Culture.
All of this is a (very) roundabout way of saying that when it comes to songwriting, Art Decade do not share the standards of their peers. (Clue #1 to the band’s mindset: the band’s name is a David Bowie reference.) Their self-titled sophomore album is this wonderfully odd blend of soaring pop melodies of the classic variety (lead track “No One’s Waiting” boasts a clever reference to ELO’s “Telephone Line”) and melancholy string arrangements, confessional and heartfelt without wallowing in self-pity. Singer Ben Talmi’s airy tenor bears resemblance to Elliott Smith, particularly on the acoustic album closer “All That’s Left,” but a more apt description would be the Silversun Pickups if they opted for range over dynamics, as their song “Harbor Light” will attest.
Between this, the showstopping “Need You Yesterday,” and the Elliott Smith-meets-Jack’s Mannequin “Numberless Dreams,” it is clear that Art Decade values crafting quality songs over collecting hits, though it would not be at all surprising to see them score a left field “TV hit” when this album makes the rounds with soundtrack supervisors. Could this be the next Death Cab for Cutie? It would not surprise us in the slightest.