in the Mouth of a Desert

The Henry Clay People might bring to mind the swagger a grizzled bar-band opening for, say, the Hold Steady, but they put forward an unmistakably local sound. In much the same way that Television recalls the concrete and steel of New York City with dark, knotted guitar lines, the Henry Clay People are able to echo the stuccoed sprawl of Orange County with jangly guitar hooks and bouncy rhythms—a sound surely tied to the band’s hometown of Yorba Linda, the well-manicured and self-appointed “Land of Gracious Living.”

With Blacklist the Kid With the Red Moustache, their upcoming full-length, that sense of place is conveyed again and again. On “Children of Chin,” the band sound like they could be piling into some beat-up sedan on their way to the beach, tossing a pair of bright, slinking guitar lines atop a buoyant beat, then twisting everything into a catchy sing-along chorus. Vocalist Joey Siara’s confident slur carries the song, falling somewhere between Conor Oberst at his most up-tempo and Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington at his least indecent—a style that’s disaffected enough to take the song’s sunny indie-rock and inject suburbia-induced lyrics that call for us to “Bury the hatchet or the knives or whatever into our backs.”

Then there’s “Social Scientology,” which continues Henry Clay People’s casual disillusion with the opening lyrical quip: “I believe in social scientology or any shit that makes me think I’m free.” It sounds a little self-serving, sure, but it’s a perfect outburst for the apathetic Orange County youth. Where else could shabby, Mediterranean-style architecture and fleets of BMWs feel so . . . oppressive? “Gentle Charm of the Soviette” complicates things, though. The song tells of an ailing Russian mistress whose grip on the protagonist remains strong even amidst a Cold War-style hysteria—it’s about as distant from Orange County as possible. But in a way, that distance is symptomatic of the county’s aimless sprawl that some find so alienating. In this case, the response is a detached allegory that Joey attributes to his study of history, although he could’ve easily passed it off as a subconscious hat-tip to fellow history major and Yorba Linda resident Richard Nixon.

At their best and most county-oriented, each of the Henry Clay People—Joey, plus guitarist and brother Andy Siara, bassist Noah Green and drummer Eric Scott—are able to channel indie-rock mainstays like Pavement and the Replacements. But the success of the band isn’t in rehashing a tried, ‘90s-tinged indie-rock sound; it’s in relocating that sound to Orange County—and usually in under three minutes, to boot.

The Henry Clay People play Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; Thurs., Feb. 15, 8 P.M. $6. 21+.

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