In the imaginary sweepstakes held for best handle bit from a 20th century design school, Eames Era gets trumped by Chicago's Aluminum Group, who've been acknowledging the forward-thinking, yet eminently conventional design aesthetic of Charles and Ray Eames since at least the mid-1990s. AG even took another step, naming their 1998 album Plano after the western Illinois town where Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built his iconic glass and steel Farnsworth House. But both groups aim for more than nominal tributes. In the broadest sense, Eames Era's smooth indie pop is traced off the work of their namesakes and other designers of that era, then translated to reference the contours of 1970s AM pop and the indie rock of more than a decade ago. Heroes+Sheroes, the Baton Rouge band's upcoming second full-length, is a nice progression from Eames Era's earlier work. It acknowledges but doesn't overstate their experiences with Hurricane Katrina, and usually manages a melodic hook or lyrical turn to differentiate its version of pleasantly contemporary, TV-licensing-ready indie pop from peers like Essex Green. Usually. Eames gets tons of mileage out of lyrics that are simultaneously cute, romantic, and possibly stolen from the screenplays of romantic comedies. "Are you Sherlock Holmes like you've been claiming?" vocalist Ashlin Phillips asks with her pretty lilt in "Watson on Your Side" (get it?), and the boys in the band follow with some "ba ba baah"s that are straight out of the happy-go-lucky fakebook. And Eames love their "ba ba baah"s a little too much they resurface in the very next song, a half-assed lo-fi acoustic thing called "Teenage Meth-Head" that reduces its provocative central character into a bore, an example-setting guest star on Degrassi: The Next Generation. ("Meth" is also part of a crop of half-formed songs on Heroes that slow everything down.) But Eames Era also have some winners in "Fake Do-gooders," "When You Were a Millionaire," and the nicely bent closer "I Am a Thing," and each suggests the aesthetic of that Eames chair, or at least where it meets the college educations and record collections of groups that reference 20th century furniture design. And Eames Era still aren't as cool as the Aluminum Group.
Heroes+Sheroes will be released April 17. It's available now for pre-order from theeamesera.com.
The Aluminum Group's Frank and John Navin have been featured on HGTV's Small Space, Big Style; they're currently working on the follow-up to 2004's More Happyness. (www.thealuminumgroup.net).
Johnny Loftus is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org