The colorful, arty, good-humored indie-pop band Landlady (pictured above) announces its affiliations and its significant differences in the first 30 seconds of “Above My Ground,” the opening track on Upright Behavior (2014, Hometapes). This half-minute is occupied exclusively by a distant, quavering and queasy processed electric piano sound: a warped, remote and unstable toy-overture of exactly the kind that kicks off a thousand tracks by a thousand new arty indie bands every month, some great, some whatever. But the difference – ah, the difference! – is in the notes, which matter.
Landlady is the vehicle of songwriter, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz, a regular member of the popular twisted circus-rock act called Man Man and a sideman who has worked with Vampire Weekend, among other indie-world notables. What differentiates Schatz’s compositions from most of his peers in BK and elsewhere is baldly evident in those 30 seconds of sickly tinkling at the top of “Above My Ground.” It is the beautiful, delicate chord progression, part melancholic jazz ballad, part Tin Pan Alley, nearly Chopin in it voicings and subtle internal movement. Upright Behavior quickly turns out to be a tumultuous, gritty, conceptually oddball affair, but that attention to subtle harmony and melodic detail characterizes the whole joint.
The five-piece band whips up a dynamic prog-pop mess across the record’s ten tracks, simultaneously orchestral and reverberant garage, nightmare show tune (the title track) and landlocked beach rock, with plenty of the Beatlesque mixed. (Is there a single more influential song than “Lady Madonna” these days?) Lyrics rely – as do so many in Landlady’s milieu – on the artful repetition and modification of simple phrases that gradually deconstruct into a morass of contradictory meanings (as lyrics must, by law, in New York City). But this is a great, smart and lovable album with a very imaginative and capable cat behind the curtain.
This is a night not to be missed by fans of iconoclastic and super-creative contenders in the contemporary indie-rock world.
Landlady & Breakfast In Fur, Thursday, September 18, 9 p.m., Half Moon, 48 South Front Street, Hudson; https://thehalfmoonhudson.com.