Here’s what I think of, in rough order, when the topic of two-person rock bands comes up: 1. Bands who took the “We only have two members” restriction as a dare to make the most noise possible (godheadSilo, Lightning Bolt, Hella, Big Business). 2. Married or once-married couples banking that romantic chemistry translates to musical chemistry (The White Stripes, Mates of State, The Like Young, and, even though it feels strange to mention them here, The Evens). 3. Holy shit The Black Keys are popular. 4. Watching post-grunge survivalists Local H from the back of The Highdive in Champaign with the evening’s now-implausible opening act The Dismemberment Plan. 5. When you name a band Drums and Tuba, you can’t add a guitarist. Come on. 6. Don’t make me talk about The Dresden Dolls, please don’t. 7. Wait, did I really forget Wye Oak until now?
Somehow I’m not surprised that one of my favorite current acts slipped from memory in favor of archetypes, improbable arena acts, and gimmicks. When I think of Wye Oak, I focus on the songs first, then sometime later the image of drummer Andy Stock playing keyboard bass lines with his left hand will pop into my head, reminding me that they lack a proper bassist. I don’t think of them as a two-piece because there are more important things to think about. Make no mistake, it’s a compliment.
A few months from now, after Fat History Month’s sophomore LP Bad History Month has enjoyed an extended residency on my turntable, I’ll be paying the Boston-based duo the same compliment. Right now I’m busy marveling at the ways guitarist Jeff Meff fills the mix, balancing folk finger-picking, knotted chords, agitated strafing, and panoramic melodies. You might not even realize there’s only one guitarist at work; the first time I saw them, I abandoned an obstructed-view perch for confirmation. Once you do, however, you’ll quickly forget it in the best way possible.
Bad History Month steers between the restless coming-of-age seen on Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West and the careful arrangements of American Football, a compelling combination of nerves and calm. On a micro level, the band excels at subtle dynamic shifts, the (relatively) quiet but distinct ebbs and flows that ’90s math/post-rock groups explored when avoiding the line at the crescendo rollercoaster.
Without a full lyric sheet on hand, it’ll be tough to make the case for how well Meff tempers humor with sadness and vice versa, but the fact that “I Ate Myself and Want to Die” and “Bald History Month” are anything but novelty songs should help. (An April Fool’s Day release date—that’s less help.) For every ponderous line like “I feel my fear moving away / In me from time, for a billion years” in “Bald History Month,” you’ll also get chuckles from “We live in a world where toilets flush themselves / But here’s good news, people like to live dangerously” in “The Future.” If Bad History Month is their tragic record, at least they’ve found the brighter corners of depression.
Befitting a record that deserves to be pored over, physical copies of Bad History Month arrive with a 30-page comic book.