By: John Mabery
If Music For Your Future Nostalgia (2010) happened to be in a box of old LPs with the likes of Buckingham-Nicks or Crosby, Stills, & Nash, and you listened to it without having any knowledge about who the Brooklyn duo Guitars is, you probably never would have guessed that it was released a little over a month ago. While some artists have made feeble attempts to revive the California pop scene of the late 1960s and ended up falling flat, Kenric McDowell and Shanna Hill-McDowell have managed to pull it off with relative ease. What they’ve created isn’t just an album that sounds like those of yesteryear, it’s an album that feels like one, and it does so without feeling mechanical.
Nostalgia is not a bright and bubbly experience. It’s a low-fi album, a quiet album for people who enjoy quiet music. It doesn’t have the tape hiss that characterizes so many low-fi albums, but it presents a resounding sense of isolation. One can just envision the McDowells sitting in a small room singing at the top of their lungs, all of it caught on a microphone that stands in the middle of the room; which one would assume is exactly how Nostalgia was recorded, since the duo moved to the mountains of Upstate New York to make the album.
Though Nostalgia is steeped in pop, there is a much wider range of influence flowing throughout. There is the standout track, “Sad Machine” – as close as anything on this album gets to a rocker – in which Hall-McDowell, burning with sexual longing, hallows sings, “To love anything is to sacrifice hope.” The album is bookmarked, fittingly enough, by a pair of spirituals, “Mama on Fire” and “Gospel of Mama.” The band claims that most of their songs began as chants and the “Mama” tracks are as close as this band comes to revealing those roots.
The best part about Guitars is that they keep it simple. The beauty of how simplistic Nostalgia is lies in the revelations that present themselves through multiple listenings. This isn’t an album that pummels you with layers of guitars, it’s an album built on subtleties. The little nuances, provided by the backing band and the limited production, give each song personality and keep them from sounding like nothing more than a collection of duets to guitar. The cowbell on “My Bad.” The chimes on “We Are Living.” The rainfall on “Big Black Hole.” One of the best aspects of Nostalgia is that it is so organic you know the McDowells and Co. will have no challenges trying to replicate this material during their live shows.
The more one listens to Music For Your Future Nostalgia, the more they are likely to appreciate it, which is fitting, since this is an album that warrants several listens. It’s a slow but rewarding build for an incredibly simplistic record that is the perfect soundtrack to any season. Age will undoubtedly be kind to this near masterpiece that Guitars has created, because even though it harkens back to a particular time and place with pitch-perfect precision, it still manages to sound timeless.