Ask For Seconds
It is an exercise in simplicity, this experience with The Strokes’ Albert Hammond, Jr., on his new EP, AHJ. Compared to the baroque pop sensibilities of his 2006 debut LP, Yours To Keep, and the indie rock of his 2008 followup, ¿Cómo Te Llama?, this EP does not ask the listener for a huge investment. AHJ endures for maybe 20 minutes, with the songs’ modest arrangements offering a lot of breathing room. Opening cuts “St. Justice” and “Strange Tidings” are the sparsest offerings; the songs get progressively more fleshed out, but only slightly. By the fifth song, “Cooker Ship,” probably the fullest number on AHJ and the one that recalls his previous outings, the fact that Hammond is a musical force behind the Strokes is at its most evident.
But oh, is the thing catchy– so sweetly and instantly catchy. EPs in general tend to lend themselves to repeat listens, because they leave as soon as they arrive. However, AHJ’s songcraft actually warrants replays. A lot of them.
“St. Justice” is the catchiest of the set, opening up with a simple, syncopated beat and fluttering guitar arpeggios. A high, almost Pete Hook-esque bass line and Hammond’s campfire vocal melody are the sweet glue holding it all together. When Hammond sings, “I got locked in myself / And I don’t know what to do,” it’s clear that although he’s eschewing the elaborate instrumentation, he’s still paying homage to Brian Wilson in some way. This is by all accounts a bona fide singalong number.
A third of the trip through “Strange Tidings,” it is evident that at least some of the experience of AHJ is about reducing a song down to the purest form possible: melody with a touch of support. It is a goal that would falter amid the acoustic asceticism of a For Emma, Forever Ago, but in the hands of a guy like Hammond, who’s no stranger to extracting the most of economy, this version of the experiment is a success.
Set closer “Cooker Ship” slightly betrays the minimalism of most of the EP. All this means, though, is that it sounds the least like an extemporaneous run-through in a friend’s garage and more like a candidate for a Strokes outtake.
If Hammond’s plan is to prepare listeners for a more complex album, then “Cooker” is the perfect segue. They have been with him through the beautiful classicism of The Beach Boys in “Cartoon Music For Super Heroes” and the laid-back indie rock of “You Won’t Be Fooled By This.” After the coffee break with AHJ, they’re going to stick with him.