A partial list of comparisons the Brooklyn-based trio Keepaway has received since it released “Yellow Wings” in 2010: Timbaland; The Strokes; Gang Gang Dance; any number of Ethiopiques compilations; Modest Mouse; MGMT; Yeasayer; LFO; southern hip-hop (the drum patterns); a barbershop quartet; and Animal Collective. It’s a spotty way of saying little about the tracks the trio produce other than that they weave lots of influences into their song-writing—which is really just saying Keepaway crafts unabashedly playlist-era pop music, and that their approach is in sync with listening habits that have been taught to wander more freely, if for shorter periods of time.
This idea of untangling an artist’s music to pick out references and cute nods to other genres and bands can often derail the listening experience. It’s deconstruction at the expense of enjoyment, like hyperlinking out of an article before it ends. Which is why it’s best to just enjoy Black Flute (Greedhead), Keepaway’s just-released debut; at its best, the band brings together all those ideas and produces a joyous, poppy, tightly packed gift.
Mike Burakoff’s synth and sampling work, Nicholas Nauman’s guitar playing, and Frank Lyon’s drum patterns conjure up pop that has just the right amount of twee. Album standout and lead single “Cake” blends bright and beaming production with falsetto singing to turn a song with a sour opening line about how everything tastes like “lemons” and a somewhat downbeat chorus of “You’re lazy and you’re obvious/ No cake for the curious” into a song that demands to be a shoe-in for springtime listening.
When Keepaway are at their most cohesive, the sound succeeds. “Vital” opens wanting to mimic an ’80s R&B jam before flipping into a four-to-the-floor groove for the chorus; “Hologram” is underpinned by a satisfyingly sinister, juddering sub-bass; “Stunner” bleeps and pulses along with electronic blips and glitches and manages to pull off the lyric “I need you to eat as much as you need to/ That’s how we turn sunlight into sex that will feed you.” When the formula falters it produces a couple of horrid moments; “Bomb Track” and its Bontempi organ-style beat are ruined by an awful chorus, while “Purple” flatlines itself by virtue of meandering synth excess.
Black Flute pitches itself as a slick-sounding set, with Keepaway throwing off the sometimes rough and reverb-heavy styles of the 2010 EP Baby Style in favor of smooth and unwrinkled production. On occasion it might come off as too sickly and too laced with falsetto singing, but it’s quite the curmudgeon who isn’t allured by a song as tempting as its blissful lead single. After all, who doesn’t like cake?
Keepaway play at Glasslands tonight for their record release party.