Most evenings, I am relieved to escape the interminable workday and
return to my cozy studio apartment in northwest Washington, D.C. But,
every once in a while, I'll have a night, or a string of nights,
where sitting in my apartment reading, listening to records,
cooking, watching movies, doing the things I usually love just
isn't enough. Instead, I'll be sitting on my bed and, maybe because
of stress or anxiety or some other unknown cause, I'll just feel sad.
And when I feel sad, there is only one thing I can do: call my mom.
Chris Streng of San Francisco's Stratford 4 understands this feeling
completely. On the band's sophomore effort, Love and
Distortion, he captures post-collegiate confusion perfectly on
the album standout, "Telephone." The song opens with a lonely,
distorted guitar-pedal fanfare that gives way to a sprawling tale of
a 22-year-old who can only find meaning and comfort in his record
collection. The band submerges the tale in a soundscape of amorphous
guitars and simple syncopated rhythm work and lets the story take
center stage. Funny and sad and triumphant, the protagonist phones
his mom for advice, and she suggests, "Don't forget Bob Dylan, don't
forget the Stones, and don't spend Saturday night all alone." It is
only once the musically tasteful protagonist takes his mom's advice
and starts going out every night that he finds he doesn't need to
call home so often.
On "She Married the Birds," Andrea Caturegli's thumping bass drum
combines with Sheetal Singh's dexterous bass work to lay the
foundation for Streng and Jake Hosek's hooky guitar licks and
baby-blanket-like chord progressions that simultaneously call for
fist pumps and the fetal position. Streng's affected indie-rock tenor
lilts as he delivers such poignant/comic lines as: "I went to
confession/ And I had nothing to confess/ They said what's wrong with
you?/ You used to be such a mess."
The mood shifts on "The Simple Things Are Taking Over" as Singh's
bass line again takes center stage, setting a mysterious tone that
allows hypnotic guitar flourishes to repeat and play off of one
another, seemingly infinitely, until they give way to a expansive,
rocking chorus, and eventually a ripping, distortion-infused bridge.
Streng's lyrics convey sincere desperation and confusion over loss of
a lover and the life changes that result: "I don't want to be your
friend, but I don't want this to end."
There is nothing revolutionary about the Stratford 4's sound. In
different moments, their songs bring to mind the ambling, simple
midtempo constructions of Luna, sans Dean Wareham's nasal voice, and
the swirling guitar rockers of the Stone Roses. And they don't shy
away from their influences like on the aforementioned
"Telephone" when Streng references everyone from Carole King to
Galaxie 500 in a brief sonic resume.
Throughout Love and Distortion, the Stratford 4 convey through
their music that sounding like other good bands that came before them
isn't a bad thing. They comprehend that there is something both
comforting and compelling about good music, that it can be both
(sometimes simultaneously) sad and comical. And like a call home to
mom, some nights all we really need are comforting and compelling