The Brookyln/Boston-based, indie garage-rock trio BOYTOY is currently comprised of Saara Untracht-Oakner (vocals, guitar), Glenn Van Dyke (vocals, guitar), and Matthew Gregory Aidala, AKA Matty Beans (drums). Saara and Glenn formed BOYTOY in 2013 after the break-up of their previous bands, You Can Be A Wesley and Beast Make Bomb respectively. They signed to PaperCup Music and were joined at the time by Dylan Ramsey (drums) for the recording of their self-titled EP which dropped in the spring of 2014. Now the trio is back, with Matty on board instead of Dylan, and ready to release its rockin’ and melodic debut album Grackle on October 2nd.
The 11 tracks on Grackle are succinct and don’t overstay their welcome, taking a head-on approach to 1960s and 1970s garage-rock, contrasting gritty guitar distortion and kinetic drum beats with tuneful, sometimes harmonizing, surf-pop vocals. Saara, Glenn, and Matty don’t crank it to the max, but keep on truckin’ through the album, once in a while trying on different styles, like modern indie rock (“Poison Breeder”) and retro-soft rock (“Wild One”). The aggressive nature of the fuzzed-up guitars is mostly tamed into shape to fit the Verse, Chorus, Verse-structured compositions, but there’s still a dynamic intensity that roils most songs.
Over the course of Grackle, the limited guitar and drum beat patterns start to sound too familiar and the sharp abrasion of the guitars becomes grating to the ear. The lyrics are to-the-point and cover relationship issues in a concise to simplistic manner. What lifts many of the tunes above the garage-rock band fray are Saara’s brazen to bruised, medium-range vocal tone and her engaging, crooning harmonies that are sometimes supplemented with Glenn’s deeper vocals. The songs that stand out are the ones that stray from the middle-ground indie-rock format or rock out harder with Saara’s compelling and assured demeanor displayed front ‘n’ center.
Upbeat lead single and album-opener “Postal” initially pummels with a punchy drum beat, cymbal crash, and rough, angular guitar riffs, but its rage-against-the-machine intentions are off-set by Saara’s sun-kissed, sing-song vocal delivery. She may be deep into the demise of a relationship, admitting “You were right / We were wrong for each other…”, but the song radiates a pleasant, California palm tree vibe due to Saara’s upturned vocal phrasing. The California dreamin’ atmosphere continues on the under-2-minute “Pulp”. Gritty guitar riffs contrast with a supple guitar line and a limber, romping drum beat while Saara provides the good vocal vibes, sounding like a more laid-back Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, cooing through lovely “Oohs” and then plaintively deploring that “It’s no fun / when all you do is run.”
The band continues to work the relationship angle on the simmering to boiling “Your Girl”. A crisply smacked drum beat and cymbal tap set the stage for Saara’s revelation that, even though the subject of her affection is involved with someone else, she’s still “your girl” and that she “Can’t help liking you…” As she chases after the unattainable, stringing out her words in a longing tone, the guitars grind with an abrasive crackle and a higher-pitched, harsh guitar line winds through the song.
Brisk and beguiling “Poison Breeder” rocks out with its QOTSA-like propulsive, distorted guitar rumble and kicky drum beat. Saara comes on like a seductive Joan Jett, exuding a cocksure attitude while savoring her words with a delectably sensuous pleasure amid the snarling guitar licks. The 1970s-steeped, California sunset folk-rock of “Wild One” drifts beautifully in the other direction, gliding along with reflective, burnished acoustic guitar strum, an emphatic drum beat, tambourine percussion, and piano notes floating way in the background. Dreamy, but pensive vocal passages of Saara’s tiered harmonies push the song along as she drones repeatedly on the chorus in an airier voice to “Choose my love.”
The band takes it back to NYC on the 1970s-inspired, pop-rock cocktail “Sailor Jerry”. Saara and Glenn harness the incendiary growl of the guitars to suit the up-tempo mood of the song, letting loose here ‘n’ there with occasional grimy guitar turmoil and cymbal crash. The breezy slap of the drums gives the tune a ramshackle charm, while Saara sings and coos like a member of The Go-Go’s, divulging that “Yeah, I’m on to you, boy…”
On the closer “Can’t Get It” Glenn and Saara alternate vocal lines at the start, with Glenn singing in a subdued, but rich tone and Saara exclaiming potently on the chorus the choice admission “How can I miss you? / I never had you.” Sporadic 1960s Girl Group “Ah-oohs” dot the song while a spot of cowbell is added… well, because there’s always room for more cowbell. The lyrical content of album-ender “Can’t Get It”, like many of Grackle’s tracks, may be about missed chances and lost opportunities, but BOYTOY connects for the most part with its sincere and appealing perspective on retro rock ‘n’ roll with a modern, melodic edge.
Review by Jen Dan