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The Sandwitches - Mrs. Jones’ Cookies

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Artist: The Sandwitches

Album: Mrs. Jones’ Cookies

Label: Empty Cellar

Review date: May. 20, 2011

The Sandwitches come out of the same loosely strung, psychedelia-infused Bay Area scene as The Mantles, Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees, Sonny and The Sunsets and The Fresh & Onlys. Heidi Alexander appeared as one of the more convincing alternate universe pop artists on Sonny Smith’s recent 100 Records project, laying a giddy girl-group shine over his “I Wanna Do It” as Earth Girl Helen Brown. But the band’s ties to The Fresh & Onlys are, perhaps, the strongest, since both singer guitarists –Alexander and Grace Cooper – once sang back-up in Tim Cohen’s band and Alexander is (or was) romantically linked with him. Both bands pursue Nuggets-esque garage pop in a faintly whacked-out, whimsical way, with strummy double guitars and slackened tempos, and they undoubtedly complement each other when double-billed, as they often are.

And yet, calling The Sandwitches a Fresh & Onlys offshoot diminishes the differences, which began to emerge with The Sandwitches’ 2009 How to Make Ambient Sad Cake and only become more striking with the band’s second effort, Mrs. Jones’ Cookies. There are, for instance, songs called “Summer of Love,” on both The Sandwitches and The Fresh & Onlys latest records, and they’re so different that it’s hard to tell whether one is a cover or not. The Fresh & Onlys’ song is a dreamy, late 1960s cruise through slanted guitars and tambourine rattles, romantic in a lackadaisical way, and sung in a straightforward, vibrato-and-vocal-fillip-free fashion. Moreover, The Fresh & Onlys fill every crevice of their song with reverb’d sound, so that you are surrounded by sensation and echo and texture. The Sandwitches’ song, which may or may not be cover, is by contrast attenuated to dandelion lightness. You can almost feel currents of air flowing through the song’s constituent elements -- the very high, fluttery joint vocals of Alexander and Cooper, the summer flurries of blues-guitar strums, the sudden rattling snare fills. There’s so much space in the song that it feels like it might fly away, and yet, there’s also an earthiness, a grounding in the way the women sing. Even at ear-scraping falsetto range, their voices have a certain amount of blues to them, a human fragility that The Fresh & Onlys song has airbrushed away.

Throughout, Mrs. Jones’ Cookies is a bit less gutsy and grounded than How to Make Ambient Sad Cake, with vocals pushed mostly out of alto range and into breathy soprano territory. “I’ve been wasting all my ti-i-i-ime,” sings one of the women (no vocal credits either), on the lilting, skip-stopping “My Heart Does Swell,” and it feels like the vocals will float off into the upper atmosphere, never to return.

Moreover, Mrs. Jones’ Cookies, despite the home-y title, seems eerier and less overtly adorable than its predecessor. Even its prettiest songs – “Black Rider,” for instance, or the doo-wop haunted “Joe Says” – have a spectral aura hanging over them. The songs are built out of well-worn, comfortable elements, down-home guitars, sepia-toned blues melodies, scratchy, regular rhythms. Still, faded to delicate hues like old photographs, they seem more ghostly than familiar.

Still, this fluttery, flittery, very feminine approach to garage pop has an undeniable appeal, exploring a nexus of strength and vulnerability that few bands even consider. (Karen Dalton comes to mind in a couple of places.) “Heavy Times,” the album’s closer, wanders through dusty, half-lighted rooms in melancholy contemplation, its sadness couched in fluting, high-pitched tones that are both haunted and fundamentally, affectingly human. There’s a lightness in the touch that in no way subtracts from the song’s impact. No one else in The Sandwitches’ Bay Area scene is doing anything like this.

By Jennifer Kelly

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