There are music fans out there that take any opportunity to gripe that modern American indie rock is bereft of new ideas, wallowing in a sea of “sounds like” and “band X-meets-band Y” comparisons. And 90 percent of the time they’d be right. Let’s face it: Independent rock is, by definition, populated by very young people who are searching for their own voice. Should it be surprising that musically inclined kids are looking to their record collections for help in locating that voice? Nope. But it doesn’t make for very good record shopping these days.
What’s all this about, you ask? This is a way of introducing Koufax, one of that other 10 percent (and that’s a generous stat). They are among the small handful of bands that A) are young enough to still be excited about possibilities in pop music; B) know that their record collections deserve to be part of their unconscious and; C) can do something mind-blowing about it. Sure, you can tell that Koufax’s collective record collection included a (Shoeless?) Joe Jackson record or two, some Cure and a handful of singles by other new romantics and angry young men. But those touchpoints aren’t how you’ll know Koufax.
If the upcoming release Social Life is any indication, you’ll know Koufax (Rob Suchan, vocals/guitar; Jared Rosenberg, piano, synthesizers; Ben Force: bass, guitars; and Dave Shettler drums/background vocals) by the infectious mix of piano-based guitar-pop the band plies. It’s a mix featuring enough synth textures and po-mo musical tchotchkes to keep your ears on edge. You’ll know them by Suchan’s vocal ruminations that have enough sweetness to suck you in and enough substance to sting once you’re caught up in their narrative web. A more left-field Ben Folds Five? That gets you in the Koufax ballpark (pun intended).
“The thing to me,” muses Suchan “is if people throw a curveball it doesn’t evoke the typical reaction of ‘Oh yeah, they sure did play.’ With rock ’n’ roll it can become a sea of mediocrity where you wonder what separates bands. Even if people don’t like it at least it sticks out.”
Many of you may already know Koufax as the Toledo/Detroit band (members live in both burgs) that found a home on the Get-Up Kids’ Heroes & Villains imprint even though the band was decidedly not part of the emo Mafia. Instead, Koufax charted a synthesizer-based course that coupled reverence for melody with a yen for experimentation that probably still — after two releases and endless touring — catches crowds off guard. To hear Suchan tell it, it seems like the band’s first LP was a noble failure.
“I don’t think we executed [the first record] as well as we could have,” he says. “The scene that we were put into because of the bands we were friends with made it not so much ill-received as it was not received.”
But constant touring with friends such as the aforementioned Get-Up Kids and shows with eclectic labelmates such as the Anniversary got Koufax in front of a lot of kids.
“We’re an ‘is what it is’ band,” says Suchan pragmatically. “It’s a slow burn. You have to get people hip to it and then they can digest it a little bit. This new record was my conscious effort to make something more upbeat,” he says.
“Something in the vein of — all these post-modern references — the Cure and Supertramp. We lost our synthesizer player before this record. So it’s almost night and day from the last record.”
One of Koufax’s strengths is the band’s ability to utterly marry lyrical content with musical texture one moment and play them against one another the next. Disarming narratives of modern malaise and society get either carried by or juxtaposed against the many moods of Koufax.
“The lyrics are pretty straightforward and are what they are — but they’re meant to make you think, ‘Is that song really what I think it’s about?’” says Suchan. It’s kind of written like you’re reading someone’s dirty diary — ‘Should I not be reading this. Should I not be hearing it.’ But not in an obvious shock-rock kind of way.”
So be warned, fair indie-rock trainspotter: You could waste your time getting all caught up in Koufax’s influences, the scene from which the group sprung or other ancillary distractions. But then you’d be missing the music, missing the heart, missing the point.
Koufax will play the Hamtramck Polish Festival Sunday, Sept. 1 at 4 p.m. in downtown Hamtramck. The band’s new record, Social Life, is due out Oct. 22.E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org