"We'll sail our ships to the summer of 1996," announces the opening line of "Elly Vs The Eczema Princess," the second song off the Henry Clay People's sophomore release. For a band with such fondness for collage-y titles and college-y smarts, this may be the only moment on Blacklist the Kid With the Red Moustache where they're telling the truth. That is, the album could easily have debuted in '96, and the L.A. quartet arguably pulls off the wisest, most frenetic riff on Pavement-brand indie rock since Tapes 'n' Tapes.
Okay, so Tapes 'n' Tapes only clawed their way onto most people's radar last year, but that's centuries in blog-rock time, in which a band can wake up famous and be over by dinner. And not many bands do Pavement justice without stone-cold copying them, so it's only natural that hearing the Henry Clay People for the first time should provoke tremors of excitement.
The dozen tunes on the self-released Blacklist are pleasantly all over the place, and yet they all find room for studied guitar shrapnel, sidelong twang, slack hooks and beery sloppiness. Singer-guitarist Joey Siara leads the way with phrasing that looks funny on paper but rolls right off the tongue. Some songs are darker than others; on "The Gentle Charm of the Soviette," he sings of a lost Russian wife: "She was the love of my whole life / I held her hand and watched her die in her sleep."
Named after the all-but-forgotten founder of the mid-1800s' Whig Party, the band is rounded out by Siara's brother Andy on guitar, bassist Noah Green and drummer Eric Scott. They play plenty around California but haven't toured far enough to kick up the buzz they deserve. Hopefully it'll happen soon, since Siara has mentioned in interviews that future Henry Clay People output will be much less opaque and much more punk.
But even if they change gears as threatened, surely they'll keep finding ways to make the weirdest bits work best.
The Henry Clay People with Quasi at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Sun., 9 p.m. $8.
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