San Francisco indie-rock group The Yellow Dress creates a foundation of acoustic guitars, light percussion, and glockenspiel, while clarinet, saxophone, and electric guitar provide flourish and flair. But the core acoustic elements are notable because Faint Music // Ordinary Light is best understood as a record that encourages the listener to focus on lyrics. Imagine Magnetic Fields leader Stephin Merritt rearranging a Decemberists song on his cheeriest day, or Saddle Creek’s acoustic acts with less angst. The album evokes the fashionable strains of indie rock from several years ago, especially in singer Dan Weiss’ gushingly earnest vocal delivery and poetic self-examinations.
Weiss pairs confessions with exuberant affirmations, such as in the song “A Complete List of Fears Ages 5-28 (aprox),” which builds a detailed catalog of his vulnerabilities into ecstatic release. Lilting vocal melodies crack with nerves as if Weiss is hesitant to divulge secrets but gets off on doing so just the same — a beta male drawing power from lifelong neuroses. Wes Anderson has built his film career on stylizing similar idiosyncrasies, but The Yellow Dress has more triumphant endings. “Existential Heckle” suggests cynical taunts with its title, but concludes with an assured It’s gonna be okay.
The Yellow Dress’ wordplay, conviction, and acoustic instruments put it out of place with the current trend toward electronic textures and vague lyrics in indie rock. Despite its borderline preciousness, Faint Music // Ordinary Light suggests that indie music’s movement away from naked arrangements and personal songcraft was a significant mistake. (self-released)