Graded on a Curve: Inspector 34,
Love My Life

Inspector 34 call Lowell, MA home, and have been extant for roughly a decade. Across that span, they’ve amassed a discography including a CD/ cassette, a few 7-inch releases, a handful of digital-only artifacts, and a slew of compilation appearances that have been compiled on a limited edition lathe-cut laser disc (which, like much of the catalog, is sold out in physical form). Love My Life is the band’s latest, featuring 13 tracks hovering between 1990s indie rock and post-Elephant 6/ Animal Collective psychedelia, out now on vinyl and digital through the Sad Milk Collective label.

The outfit responsible for Love My Life– that’d be Jim Warren on guitar and vocals, Pat Auclair on guitar, Silas Price on synth, Ben Kaplowitz on bass, and Alexandra Derderian on drums (everybody sings, with Warren and Auclair credited with various other instrumental input), self-identify as “junk rock” and “sludge pop.”

Both terms underscore a general tendency toward the disheveled in their approach, though simultaneously, they keep a firm grip on structure. Another way of putting it is that, instead of sanding away the music’s rough edges in the pursuit of refinement, Inspector 34 see the rawness in their sound as a virtue.

It’s a decision that’s appreciated, as the album manages to harness and commingle assorted strains of the indie experience that have become less common over the last couple decades (or maybe have just undergone a reduction in profile). This is increasingly apparent in “Everybody,” which hits with a wobbly momentum that’s like prime era Animal Collective, but more raucous and rocking.

“Everybody” is Love My Life’s first song. but it’s preceded by “Love,” an intro featuring audio of a man singing, his cadence mildly redolent of Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (and with the lyrics providing the album with its title). In short order, this is vocal submerged in what sounds like the ignition of a jet engine. But with “The World Explodes,” which follows “Everybody” in the LP’s sequence, the atmosphere swings into territory reminiscent of Elephant 6’s stranger, more lo-fi moments.

There a vaguely post-Tin Pan Alley, Nilsson-esque pop quality to the song, but with a palpable heaviness that carries over nicely into the murky instrumental fragment “Bugs,” and then extends into the tinny singsong din of “The Gray House.” And with “Let Down” the band segues into a zone suggesting mid-’90s Guided By Voices with a greater emphasis on psych and the lo-fi aura maintained.

And for that matter, a retention of the heavy that’s magnified in “Thick Bologna,” the first cut on the record that can be aptly sized up as possessing thud. It’s the sorta power move that might bring a smile to the grizzled mug of an aged noise-rock lover, but with enough psych ambience (notably, a sweet little keyboard flourish) to garner the approval of Bardo Pond fans.

The general sense of the druggy perseveres in “My,” another succinct track that blossoms into a full-blown song (as opposed to the prior snippets); when the singer from “Love” returns, he brings with him just a hint of The Beatles in psych mode. But without delay, “Old Man” swings the pendulum away from the neo-’60s toward ’90s-’00s anthemic guitar sweep.

Of the three selections divvying up the album’s title into portions, “Life” is the longest, extending beyond two minutes. It’s also the most bent of the bunch as it suggests a path not chosen by the young Robert Schneider. And while it takes a while for the similarity to get asserted, “Slake” reengages with GBV, and with satisfying results, as the band avoids falling back onto standard Pollard-isms. “False Prophets,” an up-tempo burner with a crafty deceleration into late ’60s keyboard swirl at the end, is solid in the penultimate spot, but I’m even more impressed by the record’s closer.

For the cut kinda begins like one of those prolonged final tracks from the midst of the CD era where the looped audio continues until the disc reaches the neighborhood of 80 minutes. But no, after radiating that vibe, “Ride the River of Light (Screaming Into the Void)” transforms into a fully fleshed-out song, one that reinforces the ’90s indie/ psych sensibility without drawing too heavily on any specific predecessor.

Even better is how this set grows through repeated listening. It’s true that Inspector 34 are drawing from a deep well of precedent without breaking new ground, but they handily avoid sounding like a hodgepodge, and they aren’t riding anybody’s coattails, as Love My Life is energetic and engaging all the way through.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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