I can’t help but feel bad for Irving. For every new sound or sweater-clad opus au courant, there are a thousand great precursory bands commanding our acknowledgement as the groundbreaking antecedents. Nothing is ever really new. Being an indie band ain’t what it used to be.
Los Angeles quintet Irving falls victim to the same pigeonholing that has done in so many great bands before them; audiophiles and amateur naysayers alike are happy to scrutinize any band that sounds somewhat reminiscent of The Beatles. Unrelenting media comparisons to every band from The Apples in Stereo to Belle and Sebastian to Brian Wilson have been hurled at Irving since the release of their first album in 2002. To delve into the endless pile of write-ups on their latest release, Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers, in search of an opinion free of an Elephant 6 comparison is an exercise in futility. They must get tired of it.
While a certain degree of influence from indie prototypes is evident in their music, it’s unfair to write Irving off as a composite. A lesser band would implode beneath the pressure of constantly being compared to The Shins. I’m not so naïve as to think Irving isn’t knowingly playing to a very specific market, but—credit where credit is due—this band has indie pop down.
Focusing squarely on summer makeout anthems and syrupy sweet breakup hymns, Irving’s signature sound is—as a sticker proclaims on the cover of Death in the Garden—“poptastic.” Irving is daringly charismatic, transcending a vain mediocrity otherwise dominating the indie scene to produce glossy, blushing, bohemian revisionist rock. Irving’s thoughtfully realized cadence is the result of stunning, articulate vocal arrangements and insidious lyrics. (The responsibility of lead vocals is actually shared among three members, a detail easily overlooked in listening to Irving’s recordings.)
Those of us with a sweet tooth for catchy, luminous indie confections (a guilty indulgence on par with the chocolate mousse at Flying Star) will appreciate Irving for what it is—a truly talented, sparklingly toned indie pop band. Just don’t ask them to play “New Slang.”