For a debut album, Levy’s Rotten Love is surprisingly self-assured. With a running length of just under half an hour, the band obviously did not feel compelled to add album fodder as so many others seem to. There is also a cohesive quality to the album, with the Levy “sound” clearly displayed despite the variety amongst the songs themselves.
The sound is a pared back one, with plenty of guitar, and murky, muffled, underwater tones – notably on the title track, album-opener and debut single Rotten Love, but also on Rector Street and Sunday School.
At times the mournfully sung lyrics over chirpy guitars means the band sound like House Of Love but the band also show their indie-balladeer credentials during On The Dancefloor, and even manage to strike a more country note in Wednesday.
More than anything, though, it seems like Levy is all about the songwriting. James Levy – leader, singer-songwriter and originally solo artist – seems to be a young man with a lot to say, and one to whom songwriting comes naturally. He also writes about what he knows, with lyrics about relationships featuring highly throughout.
Some lyrics have a matter-of-factness which brings a smile (the title track again), while on Matthew the words are squashed to fit the metre of the music in a happy-to-be-less-than-perfect way, in a song that is generally reminiscent of The Divine Comedy‘s National Express.
The band play well together, mixing and matching the elements of the music effectively to provide variety and interest. In Matthew, there are times when just the bass and tambourine are playing before returning to the full band sound, and in In The Woods there is a sudden stop followed by quiet guitar and voice before it builds back up. Electric guitar tune-picking features on See-Saw, while bassist James Broughel does some nice wandering bass-lines in Rector Street.
The weak spot – for unfortunately there is one – is James Levy’s voice. It is perfectly pleasant and up to the task on most fronts, but long or high notes such as those in On The Dancefloor and Sunday School show that he is no Bono. Sunday School in particular has some dodgy vibrato and nasal notes, which sound like he’s just woken up after a rather heavy Saturday night.
Whilst it is easy to envisage Levy doing an acoustic set in one of New York’s East Village hostelries, based on the evidence of this album it seems likely that he would be swamped by larger venues.
Fundamentally, though, Levy sound good, and on Rotten Love they have made enough catchy tune, catchy lyric numbers that scream “alternative radio-friendly single” to mean that this is unlikely to be the last we’ll hear of this quartet.