(Club Fub Records/Tup Keewah Recordings, digital download)
It's tempting to reduce bands to their stylistic influences, or to whittle their sound into some contrived sub-subgenre that ultimately makes it more difficult to imagine what the band sounds like. And doing so only results in pretentious showboating on the critic's part. So I'm left to characterize Eef without noting their whimsical, edgy blend of alt-jingles, garage rock and '60s pop. I'll have to illustrate their stylistic variety without telling you that they sound like Pavement and Sebadoh copulated under an overcast sky to a Velvet Underground tape.
I can tell you that The Carlisle Sessions, Eef's first release after a two-decade hiatus, manages to cater to '90s nostalgia without feeling stuck in the past. The band, whose heyday was the Burlington alt-rock scene of the 1990s, opted to write and record new songs for the nine-track album rather than rehash their old catalog. In doing so, they highlight 20 years of individual musical growth.
After Eef's original run, guitarist Jedd Kettler remained in Vermont, releasing albums with the band Farm, and recently formed the Mountain Says No with Farm alum Ben Maddox. Bassist Mike Barrett moved to Brooklyn, where he played with the Essex Green and Sixth Great Lake before settling down in Boston. Drummer Brad Searles moved to Boston as well, where he played in numerous bands and started a music blog, Bradley's Almanac.
Those divergent life experiences bring a variety of influences to The Carlisle Sessions. Eef sound as comfortable drawing on sounds of earlier decades as they are engaging their '90s roots. This range is evident in "My New Mix Tape," which borrows from '60s pop, including use of the legendary Ronettes drumbeat from "Be My Baby." Barrett's lyrics recollect the pride felt through the envy of others when they see him with his beautiful girl. That is, until she breaks his heart and ends up with another guy. He reflects on the mixtapes he would make her, including his best yet, where, he sings, "The first song is 'Don't Let's Start' / The final song is 'Love Will Tear Us Apart,'" referencing They Might Be Giants and Joy Division. Given his immaculate musical taste, Barrett might get this girl back after all.
"Sugar High" shifts into a style that identifies more with the band's '90s roots. A retro cereal-ad sample is interrupted by distorted guitar that drops in over a driving 7/4 beat. The energy subsides long enough for the lyrics to celebrate sugary cereal, sleeping late and back rubs.
The remaining tracks sit comfortably between those extremes, and the album does well to sandwich a stripped-down song such as "You Home" between the tracks "Guys" and "Girls," which dial the fuzz and tempo back up and maintain the album's forward momentum.
The Carlisle Sessions prove Eef to be a positive and timely inclusion to the local scene, considering the parallels that could be drawn between Burlington's burgeoning rock community of today and the 1990s scene from which Eef originally came.