When you attach the word “art” to the front of a band’s genre, that usually just means you’re at a loss to describe its sound. But if you listen to Brooklyn duo NewVillager’s self-titled debut and feel led to call it art-pop, don’t worry—it’s justified. The record is actually a 10-stage mythological story—five years in the making—whose cycle of birth, death and rebirth is supposed to be a metaphor for the artistic process (for example, “Cocoon House,” the first stage, describes an artistic idea’s inception). To incarnate the concept, the group put together a live-in installation at a Los Angeles gallery with 10 rooms spanning off of a central performance area. So yeah, using “art” to describe these guys ain’t no cop-out.
NewVillager is what TV On The Radio would sound like if it had tidier, more poppy sensibilities; and though the myth concept is interesting and almost even salient, the record doesn’t need a background or narrative in order to sound killer. Founding members Ben Bromley and Ross Simonini work with a backbone of soul-informed rock that’s splayed with a colorful palette of more interesting sounds: hand claps, breath sounds and delay-infused loops.
Things kick off with “Cocoon House” and its irresistible stomping, palm-muted grooves. Throughout NewVillager, a husky croon swaps limelight duties with a colorful falsetto (which sometimes has a subtle Auto-Tune effect added to it), and the two often team up for a layered effect that’s 90 percent of the reason for that earlier TVOTR comparison.
It’s always a pleasure when a concept album can stand on its own without the concept, and that’s what NewVillager is—a bunch of fun, carefully crafted songs, whether you’re talking about the climactic sing-along chorus of “Shot Big Horizon” or the tambourine and guitar riffing of “Upholder.” It’s anyone’s guess whether there’s anything to the system for creating art conceptualized here, but you know what they say: The proof’s in the pudding.