Across six albums, twin brothers Gary and Ryan Jarman, with younger brother Ross on drums, have channeled fuzz and melody from the Weezer and Flaming Lips records they worshipped as teens. That’s nothing new. But what’s remarkable about the Cribs, an English trio now living in Portland, is that they’ve attracted many of the marquee-name producers behind those same records, and in short order. Bonus: in 2009, guitarist Johnny Marr liked them so much, he joined the band for one album.
The Cribs broke through thanks to these high-profile associations, in part by their own ambition early on, chasing down and winning over of big-shot producers like Steve Albini and Dave Fridmann. Now, with Ric Ocasek of The Cars, the band has encountered perhaps its best-suited producer to date and ensured a new level of credibility. Nada Surf, Bad Brains, and No Doubt are among Ocasek’s long list of past projects, but it’s primarily his work with Weezer that fits most with nailing the kind of power-pop sound the Cribs have been after for 12 years.
This is not to say that For All My Sisters imitates early Weezer. The similarities are there, in songs like “Pacific Time” and “An Ivory Hand,” which in ways mimic Rivers Cuomo’s sustained, octave-jumping oooooh-whoaaaa style over midtempo power chords. And yes, the Cribs lay bare their obsession with ’90s-era guitar-riff saturation; they even process their instruments to sound like synthesizers. What overshadows these likenesses, however, is the strength of lead singer Ryan Jarman’s tone. In brief moments it sounds as if Brian Wilson has ditched the Beach Boys and started a punk band, especially on the album’s opener, the loud and aching “Finally Free.”
The Cribs are louder and leaner than ever, and much of their narrative fixates on self-doubt at the intersection of independence and insecurity in one’s early thirties. The hard, beautiful jangle of “Burning For No One,” a love song that likens isolation to “a candle on a vacant table,” burns out too soon. Later, “Simple Story” strips everything back, with a far-off tambourine clacking along in the reverb as Ryan’s words seem to shake out of him.
“Let’s start a vicious cycle,” he sings, as if he’s preparing for battle. “Gonna have to be a man someday.”
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