Once upon a time (about five years ago), a band from L.A. called Sunday's Best made some of the prettiest pop music suited both for seaside lounging and mountaintop snow sports (in fact, they were featured on the monstrous soundtrack for the Microsoft snowboarding game Amped). Unfortunately, that band got tagged with the fated "emo" tag and for unknown reasons faded into oblivion. Now vocalist/bassist Edward Nolan Reyes (switching to guitar) and drummer Ian Moreno have moved on from that band to form The Little Ones. Joining them are Brian Reyes (bass), Lee Ladouceur (keyboard), and Greg Meyer (guitar). Their combined forces make them the most difficult to hate band of the year. A glance at their abstract yet cheery album art brings to mind The Shins CD inserts (likely because the same artist did both covers), but don't expect this band to be a carbon copy.
Their recently released Sing Song EP (Astralwerks) is fun, to say the least. According to the band's website, "They came up with Uncle Lee's Rule of Feet [during recording]. The rule stated that a song was deemed appropriate if, and only if, each of the Little Ones' feet could shuffle." Luckily, the self-imposed rule led them to success. Their indie pop is catchy like label-mates Phoenix, sun-soaked like older Phantom Planet, and smooth like the disbanded Sunday's Best. But these days, a band needs an extra push to rise above redundant internet buzz. The Little Ones' vibrant, distinctive live performance accomplished that with ease. From start to finish, Ed Reyes stood confidently at the front of the stage with his Rickenbacker guitar that shined red like a well-waxed surf board. His voice is timeless, providing the key element that makes their music so memorable. Ed and Brian were immediately recognizable as brothers, which added a familiar vibe to the already pleasant atmosphere. Furthermore, they played as if the audience were their close friends, instead of alienating the crowd as many current bands do.
The group's sound screams of California (just like Ladouceur's bushy, blond hair). You could practically hear sea gulls and waves crashing in the background, and hints of an ocean breeze made their way through Schubas music room. Plus, they have so much fun on stage that I almost hitched a ride to Cali with them. Most of their songs are very beat oriented, although the drums didn't stick out over any other instrument. The keyboards are subtle but vital, adding extra flavor to the already zesty music. The separate instruments melted together as Uncle Lee's Rule of Feet applied itself to the audience. All of a sudden, smiling and dancing were not a choice, but happened automatically for the majority of viewers.
The band (expectedly) played all seven songs from their EP. The melody on "High On A Hill" brought to mind the '50s pop from the movie "That Thing You Do." The band combined that aesthetic with the '80s flavor of Simple Minds on "Oh, MJ." The drawn-out "whoa" at the start of "Let Them Ring The Bells" sounded as if it were borrowed from Mates of State. The upbeat jingle "Cha Cha Cha" turned many frowns upside-down, despite how grumpy or weather-trodden Chicagoans tend to be. On "Face The Facts," the band even dared to use a cowbell, and then managed to not sound pretentious (after all, the cowbell has become the most overplayed, albeit underused, instrument of the decade thanks to Saturday Night Live). At one point in the show, Ed Reyes warned the audience that the upcoming song was extremely dark and hoped they wouldn't be disturbed. Even those who had heard the EP half believed him, but were relieved when the lighthearted affair was not interrupted by some depressing spell. "Lovers Who Uncover" closed the set, providing an updated take on Sunday's Best's airy indie rock. That song's hand claps and "hey" chants secured the devotion of anyone left in the crowd who wasn't already dancing.
Listeners who are still on the fence after hearing the Little Ones' studio recordings should be much more interested after seeing them live. They affirmed the notion that a band's true potential is demonstrated on stage. At this point, the band has a couple different directions they can take. But that's the point of an EP; to test out the water. For the Little Ones, the water looks warm, crystal-clear, and full of little multicolored fish waiting to follow them. And since the Sing Song EP is a stronger set of songs than most full length albums this year, it should hold over fans until the band can supply a full length CD of their own. Until then, cherish the beautiful feeling their music inspires, and don't fight the urge when your feet start to shuffle.
The Little Ones
By Nick Meador