Listening to Ordinary Van’s first, self-titled new record is both a great experience and a bittersweet one. Lead singer and main songwriter Paul Bates, since this album’s release, has headed back to his home state of California to be amongst the West Coast sunshine and family. This leaves this great self-titled debut as the only evidence Ordinary Van did exist for a short time. The likelihood there will be more albums to follow is unlikely, but at least we have this one to keep us company on those lonely Midwest days.
“Teeth” opens with a cavernous guitar bellowing out from some unknown dark hole before drums come in with what sounds like whistling. It has the vibe of early Death Cab For Cutie with a bit of Andrew Bird thrown in for good measure. “Our Memory Serves” has the subtlety and indie rock melancholy of Grizzly Bear but without getting too precious. The track stays firmly grounded and reachable. The song gets noisy and intense with some impressive drumming by Chris Leonard before things come to a quiet end.
I must mention that the band doesn’t seem to be a vehicle for any one member. Bates’ guitar and vocals seem to light the way, but great work by Charlie Davis on guitar, Ryan Holquist on guitar, keys, and synth, and the aforementioned Chris Leonard on drums are scattered throughout this album. Each guy pull their own weight to make this debut a great and engaging indie rock album.
As a whole the album seems to stay pretty much in the middle of the road, both in tempo and mood. It’s not a party record, but it’s not for sitting around the apartment moping either(well most of it, anyways.) Songs like “Flood Song” and “Armadillo” feel more like laid back strummers. A mix of Elliot Smith conversational honesty and even some of the XX confessional heartbreak. Then you step into a song like “Tidal” that brings to mind early Sunny Day Real Estate and a less bombastic and more introspective Foo Fighters. “Lincoln Avenue” is a big, rolling ballad about longing for something had and something lost. “Love is gone but it won’t go away/A final picture: you looked afraid” Bates sings over melancholy, wide-eyed music. “This City” is carried by snare rolls, electric piano, gentle strums, and Bates’ vocals. It seems both to be reasoning for leaving somewhere or someone and damning those very reasons.
Ordinary Van have made a lovely debut. It’s tight production and simple yet precise songwriting begs for repeated listening. It’s heart-on-sleeve, raw, emotional indie rock. All the more emotional knowing this could be all we get from Ordinary Van.
7.8 out 10
Head over to www.ordinaryvan.net and snag a copy of this great record.