Atlanta's The Yum Yum Tree has been around
for more than a few years; however Paint By Numbers is
their first full length release. Released by local label Two
Sheds Records, this album provides an exemplary case
of how a band can, seemingly out of nowhere, produce a surprisingly
interesting and different collection of tunes, based on songs
to which Atlanta listeners have grown accustomed.
Longtime readers know that we here at the 'Sponge have fairly
decided opinions, especially regarding bands that we see regularly
in live venues. This is true, even if we have not posted reviews
of a band's work (ask me my opinion of Gringo Starr sometime…).
In the case of The Yum Yum Tree, you'll see our occasional
vague references to the very bass-y, deliberate, and intensely
heavy sound which has characterized this band. While this has
changed and modified over the years, that description is still
what jumps to my mind whenever someone names this band. And
I would have expected Paint by Numbers to indeed
fulfill these notions.
But as it turned out, I was way off base on this one.
Opening track Inevitable provides an excellent case study, if you will,
regarding these changes. Beginning with a squeal of feedback from guitarist
John McNicholas that brings to mind the work of Superchunk's Jim
Wilbur, this song breaks into a fast pace, driven by the snare and ride
cymbal intense drumming of Alex Pilson. Over this Ms. Andy Gish sings in
the delicately fierce tone which characterizes so many of her vocals. And,
while I can hear Gish's bass thudding in the background, it doesn't dominate
this tune in the way which I expected. This may because of the apparent presence
of a second guitar, but at the very least, the backing vocals (performed
live courtesy of newest The Yum Yum Tree member Michelle Friedman, and here
I believe performed by Gish herself) add a nice counterpoint. Either way,
when the song ends at just over the three minute mark, it's a sudden stop
to this energetic frenzy, which has moved away from the deliberateness I
think has previously characterized the band's sound.
The rest of the album continues along in the same vein, as The Yum Yum Tree
shows off their new sound. Looking at a few more of their best tracks, you
can see that the crispness and crunchiness of their tone continues throughout.
As an example, Outside In (long one of my favorite songs by this band)
begins with Gish's vocals (balanced by a nice backing vocal by McNicholas)
acting in contrast with those effected guitars. In the meantime, the bass and
drums keep things bouncy and happy before McNicholas breaks into a Wilbur-esque
guitar solo, circa On the Mouth. It's a nice little Indie rock
tune that brings to mind bands like Magnapop or even The Breeders. In contrast,
on the next track Factor Me Out, the music slows down to a more deliberate
pace. Yet, the relative lightness of the guitarwork on this track, which is
enhanced by some nice acoustic sounds, only serves to highlight Gish's voice
as well as the inherently jangly aspect of the tune.
The latter tracks on Paint by Numbers are the one place where I can begin to hear the earlier sound of the band. For example Throw Me Out the Window is filled with fuzzier guitars and more calculated drumming that brings the focus of the band back to their lower end. Yet this too has more layers and intricacies than I would expect from what is ostensibly a straight-forward rock song. Likewise, the final song, title track Paint By Numbers begins with a thudding bassline, but before long the rest of the band kicks in, filling up the middle range and adding contrast to the tune. It's a nice supplement and shows ultimately how the band has grown their sound over the years.
Paint By Numbers is, as I said at the beginning, something of a surprise and revelation for The Yum Yum Tree. Underneath all of the heavy trappings, they know how to craft a solidly enjoyable pop tune. And these traits are only emphasized by the uniformly excellent production and mixing (courtesy of Jason NeSmith and Curt Wells, respectively). With this in mind, I have to admit that this record really shows off a band that plays crisp Indie rock with a unique vocal sound, which made it one of the best Atlanta albums of 2007.