New Jersey is a state that gets its fair share of abuse. Often overshadowed by its neighbor New York City, the images New Jersey usually brings to mind are toll roads, the passive aggressive phrase “What Trenton Makes the World Takes”, and yes, “The Jersey Shore”. Ridgewood, New Jersey might change all that and give Brooklyn a run for its money thanks to the town’s burgeoning music scene headed by the record label Underwater Peoples.
Underwater Peoples is the brainchild of Ari Stern, Evan Brody, Mike Mimoun, and Sawyer Carter Jacobs, which formed during their senior year at The George Washington University. The record label boasts such acts as melodic wife and husband duo Tennis, and produced lo-fi beach-laced pop Real Estate’s first 7-inch back in 2009. Along with running an independent record label, the quartet also make-up the lo-fi retro sounding Family Portrait and are starting to generate quite the buzz.
I’ve seen Family Portrait live a few times, most recently when they opened for The Crayon Fields at D.C.’s Black Cat in October. Their performance solidified that Family Portrait is a band to watch. The group sounded much tighter and comfortable with their innovative catalogue than at previous shows. What makes Family Portrait standout from the numerous other lo-fi bands spilling out of the New York City area is the band’s modern spin on blues and early pop rock. Their genre blending sound is heard best on “Mega Secrets”. A walking bass-line provided by Jacob or Stern (the two share bass duty) starts the song off followed closely by Mimoun’s steady cymbal crashes and Brody’s clear guitar hook. The band allows this infectious, retro heavy melody to stand on its own before adding Brody’s distinctive croon into the mix at the one minute mark.
The opening lyrics “I can’t do anything right and she says we’re going under” punctuated by “oohs” and a wonderful warble creates an air of cloaked sensuality, calling to mind images of teenage shenanigans occurring in the backseat of a 1955 Chevy. Family Portrait continues the vibe of playful sexuality throughout the song and adds a modern spin on the 1950′s sound with manipulated vocal echos. “Mega Secrets” is defiantly the band’s standout song but they also offer other promising songs, like the travveling man’s ode “Glide Part One”.
“Glide Part One” has more of a honeyed sound thanks to the pleasant instrumental lilt heard throughout the song. Brody seems to enjoy experimenting with vocal ranges, often stretching out certain phrases, like “Headed out in New Orleans”. The lyrics of “Looking for the call to leave” and “Should we wade back home” adds a vintage wanderlust vibe to the melody. It was refreshing to listen to a band produce a song that isn’t just about relationships. Family Portrait gets a bit more experimental on the electro-pop like “It Turns”, sounding like they might of employed the use of a drum machine on the track. There isn’t anything displeasing with the sound created on “It Turns”, but it doesn’t utilize the band’s stronger points, which is their absorbing instrumentals. The group doesn’t need to heavily rely on synthesizers or vocal distortion because they have the ability to standout simply through their innovative musical ability.
Family Portrait has dealt with geographical dilemmas due to members occupying different continents, but for now parts of the band are calling Brooklyn home. Hopefully Family Portrait will be able to produce their own EP (they currently have a 7-inch) on Underwater Peoples along with all the other innovative bands they put forth.
By: Stephanie Glass