The Submarines The Drake Underground, Toronto ON February 15
Published Feb 17, 2009L.A.'s smile-pop purveyors the Submarines effuse appositeness. Founders Blake Hazard and John Dragonetti broke up, separately wrote an album's worth of songs about it, and got back together, finding success with their warm and fuzzy tunes.
On Sunday night, they played a fittingly joyful set in the Drake Underground's subterranean (get it?) confines. Couple pop is a genre in and of itself (see Mates of State, the Weepies, etc.). It has the potential for cloying sweetness, however, Hazard's affability and Dragonetti's quiet disaffectedness avoided syrupiness.
Like the Weepies - though minus any trace of twee - the Submarines make soundtrack fodder without resorting to obvious hooks. Though occasionally verging on Emiliana Torrini-style pandering (i.e. "Brightest Hour") or venturing near dreaded MOR territory, their songs employ a wide range of influences and the live setting and Jason Stare's spirited drumming made them all the more resonant.
Shimmering, tambourine-infused highlight, "Swimming Pool" mined '60s top 40 with an eye on Phil Spector, as did "A Thorny Thicket," which threw in a cathartic bridge and shades of surf rock guitar to change things up. "1940" had an ominous Broadway lilt that became an apropos jazz-inspired vocal line. Conversely, the melodica-spurred "Brighter Discontent" used an alt-country chord progression and cheered up a Jenny Lewis-style lament.
The band even showed a post-emo proclivity, nodding to late-period Jimmy Eat World/Promise Ring on "The Wake Up Song," albeit slowing things down and dropping the pop rock trappings in favour of subtle pathos. Briskly jaunting through their set, the Submarines kept the pace quick and punchy. "You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie" featured resounding percussion that made an on-disc bore suddenly, happily sonorous and "Xavia" soared in its finale slot. Buoyant and ebullient, it was an exultant gig.