In a time when fuzz pedals and echo-y vocals are de rigeur for D.I.Y. bands, Austinites Yellow Fever have one of the cleanest sounds on recent record — thanks in part to singer Jennifer Moore’s fantastic voice, which has a direct quality evocative of Qui*x*otic’s Christina Billotte or Rebecca Gates of the Spinanes. They strip down songs to only the most essential elements, eliminating even guitar chords when they don’t need them. “Hellfire,” for one, has only a neat bassline, drums, and vocals. That’s enough.
That kind of editing serves Yellow Fever well: their songs are as witty, literate and well-structured as a good essay. “Cats and Rats” plays with patterns: a droning bass-line turns into a droning backing vocal part, the guitar part mimicking the lyrics’ rhythm. As inane as its chorus lyrics (“Cats and rats and cats and rats and cats and rats”) sound on a first listen or appear typed out, it’s almost impossible to get the phrase out of your head after a couple listens. A close listen to “Culver City” reveals the song’s surprisingly complex structure — it has four different stages, deftly pieced together. Tons of girl bands dream of melding the Shangri-Las with the Raincoats, and this song’s one of the most successful blends yet: the spare pre-chorus with pounding Palmolive-style drums leads into a tremendously catchy bridge, with Moore singing some total Specter-style lyrics: “What she done to you, baby, it’s wrong, it’s wrong / What she’s done to you baby, it’s all your fault.”
Yellow Fever go so far as to pepper the record with direct references: “Donovan” is about Donovan; “Cutest” jacks the melody of a camp song about a bear (you’d know it if you heard it). It’s a pretty bold move, and the allusions sometimes seem precious. But they work just as often. Moore is also in a girl-group tribute band called the Carrots, and dropping in lines from “Sally Go Round the Roses” and “Spanish Harlem” attests to her interest in the economical songwriting tradition of the Brill Building. Or, you know, maybe she just thought it was funny.
Seldom do bands succeed in having a sense of humor; even less often does a good record have multiple songs that mention pet animals. This album has such a rare combination of straightforward appeal and deep-down surprises that it gets away with both.