Photos by Charlie Homo
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of catching Social Studies two years in a row at Noise Pop: I saw them open for Wye Oak last year, and I caught them again Wednesday night with Ramona Falls. While this review isn’t quite a “What a difference a year makes!” piece, because the band was excellent on both nights, the evolution of the band has been pretty exciting to watch.
But before I get to all that, there’s a matter of the two openers. Newcomers Mahgeetah may have borrowed their name and most of their sound from fellow country-inflected indie rockers My Morning Jacket, but that’s okay. The Americana tradition does not demand originality, just decent chops and a capacity for true, authentic expression. I’d say Mahgeetah has these things going for them, and given that they’ve released just one album, it’s maybe no surprise they haven’t quite found their own unique voice.
LA’s Harriet is another newish band, and they’re also working within a somewhat traditional American format, if a bit more rock-oriented. But they threw in plenty of keys and beats that called to mind more danceable electronic music. Truth be told, however, I was having a love affair with a “Chicken Fried Impersonator” sandwish (a meatless “chick’n” patty in between two waffles) supplied by Soul Groove out of Brick & Mortar’s kitchen, and honestly found that a lot more absorbing. But I don’t mean that to knock the band—while the songs didn’t hit me that night, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on and I would definitely check them out again.
Which brings us to Social Studies. Last time I reviewed their show, I name-dropped a particular new song, “Terracur”. It was due to be released on the band’s album Developer, which was still forthcoming at the time. Well, Developer is out now, and has been received with pretty huge critical praise (you can watch the video for “Terracur” here). The band is riding high, and Wednesday night was no exception. They just finished a pretty thorough US tour in support of Ramona Falls, and it showed. The band’s chops were air tight. I especially liked the two-guitar attack, as their road guitarist and hometown guitarist were both onstage. And while I think the Victoria Legrand comparison I made last time around is still pretty apt, singer Natalia Rogovin has really come into her own and never sounded better. Her command over her voice is impressive: sultry in all the right places, powerful when she needs to assert the melody over the intricately arranged compositions. It’s no wonder Social Studies appears poised to continue their winning streak in 2013.
I was not at all familiar with the music of Ramona Falls going into the night, except that it’s the band started by Brent Knopf after he quit Menomena—another band I never paid any particular attention to. Maybe I should have. While there’s something a little too twee about Knopf’s vocal delivery for me, it was nearly impossible not to get into their set. Most of their songs are composed of piano, violin, guitar, and some really energetic beats supplied by a live drummer. The violinist in particular is just a lot of fun to watch: she was bouncing around and clearly having a blast up there, even though she’s been on the road with three dudes for over five months (she did take a moment to protest the fact that they never wait for her to fix her hair, though). I don’t really know what you’d call Ramona Falls’ music. Baroque indie pop, maybe? Either way, their unique approach to songwriting and original sound was a great way to close out my first night of Noise Pop.