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Cooler than Cornell, Hipper Than Brown, Less Fratty Than Dartmouth: The Ivy League’s “The North Star” In Review

March 31, 2009

Pre-teen Popsters: Get 'em before the drug addictions set in!

Aw, dudes! Remember how much fun being in high school was? Parents are totally lame.

Once upon a time, I told you about the Ivy League. They were a high-school band, scorching a hot little corner of Facebook with a fan page that got updated more frequently than Kanye West’s Twitter and which was frequented by someteen-year-old girls with arm’s-length self-portrait glamor shots for profile pictures who would write their love messages like, “I WANT UR MUSIC ON MY IPOD!” or “HEyyyyyy, rEmembeR me?!? IT’s kATie! fROM FRenCH WoODS! I LUUUUUVVVVV YOOOOUUUU!” It was a scary place. But I braved the stench of Axe and post-Goldschlager Coke chasers into that Teenage Dungeon (Teengeon?) to bring you back the Gorgon head of the Ivy League’s jams, guaranteed to turn you to stone with their white-hot rock.

Well, since then every member of the band has grown at least three inches. At least one member of the quartet has gotten his driver’s license (or so I’ve been told), so they no longer have to ask Dad to drive them to their gigs (as long as they’re back before curfew). And they’ve released an album. That’s where I come back in. I’m about to review its brains out. Brace yourself, kids: this band’s about to get the Animal Show bump.

The Ivy League’s music plays like a Will Ferrel movie: although you can see the jokes coming a mile away, you still laugh until you’re Lizzing. Yes, I’d probably name Weezer, Jock Jams, and American Hi-Fi as their biggest influences (347 blogpoints to the person who can name an American Hi-Fi song that isn’t “Flavor of the Week), but I like all of those things. These kids deliver feel-good jams, sing-along songs to make the drive to the East Village from Bronxville all the more bearable. Amirite, dudes?

Overdriven, power-chorded guitars and slamming cymbals accompany Adrian Simon’s vocals, the timbre of which runs the middle ground somewhere between Brian Wilson’s melodic falsetto, Freddie Mercury’s melodic falsetto, and Brad Delp’s melodic falsetto. But he’s not falsettoing. All chest voice. It’s damn high, and pretty damn good. Inimitable, to say the least. It’s perhaps strongest, though, when accompanied by bassist Dan Hockstein’s startlingly strong vox in “Irony (Without the Iron)” (a song he co-penned with Simon, the only collab on the album), which provides much-needed tonic, the Kool-aid Blast to accompany Simon’s Zebra Cake down your gullet. (Why isn’t this kid appearing more, vocally? If that Kool-aid comment doesn’t win this band over, I don’t know what will.)

The songs go down as easy as the first can of Sprite after three weeks at camp: they’re contraband, sweet and cool, as sugary as your teeth can take. They’re familiar, and yet with a twist of citrus. Their caloric intake is so great that your mom will only let you have one listen a day. But I’m in college, Mom, and you can’t reach me here. I’ll listen all night, and wake up tomorrow morning with a sugar-hangover reminiscent of Bar Mitzvah nights. Because I can. This is air-guitaring, squinch-faced squealing, foot-stomping music. This is the sound of Kevin getting his first kiss with Winnie. This is everything on Nick in 1995, with extra slime on the side. It’s the Legends of the Hidden Temple grand prize of brand-new Hushpuppies, and maybe a lifetime supply of Nerds. It’s everything I keep getting told I should have outgrown years ago, but haven’t.

I do have a few caveats, however. For example, the lyrics are downright Third Eye Blindian in their cookie-cutter patterns and repeated themes. And there are a couple duds on the album. “Travellin’ Song” is completely and totally unremarkable, lacking even the Ivy League’s customary melodicity. “Burn It Up Baby” is the obligatory self-aware recognition of PARTY LIFE WOO (albeit with some nasty synth). But seriously kids, the next song I hear with “let’s get this party started” in the lyrics will force me to put my fist into my own ear canal, most likely ending my life in the process. And that wouldn’t be pretty.

Also, this may be the lamest name for a band ever. I can think of about a dozen in 30 seconds which would be a million times better: Captain Jif and the Fluffernutters, Juicicle, Orca Orgasm, Knock Hockey, Sparklebug, Sworditar, Uncle Fumerous and the Frosted Miniguns, Adrian Simon’s Band With Some Other Kids Who Play Instruments (I’ve heard this was a serious contender for the title), or Greasewhistle. Maybe you should consider these for the future.

And then there’s the issue of “Irony (Without the Iron).” This was the first Ivy League song I ever heard, and I was sent it by a friend whose accompanying note was something to the extent of, “this is really good, as long as you ignore the fact that the chorus is note-for-note the same as Spoon’s ‘The Underdog.'” It’s true; it is. Like laughably close. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the song. It may be my favorite on the album. But every time I hear “The Underdog” these days, I can’t help but laugh thinking of the defenses I’ve heard second- and third-hand, things like, “the guys swear they wrote ‘Irony’ before ‘Underdog’ ever came out” or “sources close to the band vehemently deny any connection.” Fess up, dudes — I caught you.

Ultimately, though, all the faults I can find with these kids I’m willing to write off. Every album has a couple duds. And “Irony” is packaged so nicely, its potential plagiarism has never drawn away from my enjoyment of the song. As for the Third Eye Blind, Weezer, Jock Jams, and American Hi-Fi comparisons, who’s to say those are insults? What I love about the Ivy League is that they sound just like everything I loved in 7th grade, and are exactly what I wanted my attic-jam-sessions bands to sound like. They’ve pulled it off with musical grace and elegance, and for that I can’t help but love them. Even if I could never, ever get my voice to attain the heights of Simon’s Gene Simmons yowl.

Out of this Town – The Ivy League

Whoa – The Ivy League

Irony (Without the Iron) – The Ivy League

Download the album for free here, and, for those about to rock, the Show salutes you.

PS: It is my sad duty to inform you that this debut album will be the Ivy League’s only, as the band plans to break up by the end of the summer. An ephemeral glimmer. Grab ’em on tour while you can, and before they grow beards and try to be Williamsburg hipsters instead of UES chipsters.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. marquismeowmersiv permalink
    March 31, 2009 4:05 pm

    Cooler than Cornell, Hipper Than Brown, Less Fratty Than Dartmouth, but Not Nearly Noisy, Drone-y, or Messy enough for Hampshire… I give it a 4/10 because it is, admittedly, really catchy.

  2. lolztothewallz permalink
    April 8, 2009 8:59 pm

    amazing review. amazing review.

  3. May 7, 2009 5:56 pm

    yo dude, the ivy league wrote Irony way before ‘Underdog’ came out. I was with them when they wrote it, like a year before Spoon’s album came out!

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