Golden Suits is the solo project of Fred Nicolaus, who, along with Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen, makes up the acclaimed indie pop outfit Department Of Eagles. Nicolaus endured a tumultuous period in the year ahead of the release of this, his first full-length release under the Golden Suits name. He went through a painful relationship break-up, a rat infestation in his flat, financial troubles, a trip to Germany to research the death of his grandfather in World War Two and (perhaps happily, perhaps not) extreme weight loss.
Throughout this chaotic period, Nicolaus became obsessed with the writer John Cheever, the so-called “Chekhov of the suburbs” whose short stories chronicled the mores of America’s middle classes in the ’50s and ’60s (the name “Golden Suits” is a reference to the final line of the Cheever story The Country Husband). Nicolaus duly began writing songs that conflated his experiences with those of Cheever’s characters.
It’s to both Nicolaus’s credit and discredit that the conceptual elements of Golden Suits can be set aside easily. Golden Suits make classicist indie rock of the most refined and tasteful variety. The production’s clean, arid qualities occasionally recall Battles’ Mirrored, but Golden Suits are a much less abstruse proposition than the math-rock act: musically, this is as easy on the ear as any album released in 2013.
Nicolaus’s voice – with its precise phrasing and clarity of tone – is often reminiscent of that of Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service’s Ben Gibbard. But, as an instrument, it’s considerably less versatile than Gibbard’s: it seemingly can trundle along only at one pace. The songs follow suit, varying between quite slow and really slow.
Fortunately, Golden Suits is a sufficiently tuneful record to ensure that its unyieldingly slow pace matters for little. Swimming In ’99 begins the record at a delicate canter, its galloping guitar lines recalling underrated indie stalwarts The Dodos. Elsewhere, there are plenty of lovely moments: the brass on Find A Way, the heavenly female vocals on Dearly Beloved, Didn’t I Warn You’s big bear-hug of a chorus and (especially) the exhilarating middle eight of I Think You Would Have Been Mine.
Lyrically, however, neither the album’s turbulent back-story nor its Cheever connection seems to leave much of a mark. Cheever’s short story The Country Husband concerns a plane crash survivor who behaves in an increasingly obnoxious manner; the lyrics on this album are, however, unfailingly polite. Fairly typical are I Think You Would Have Been Mine’s promise to “make a holy mountain out of little ol’ you” and You Can’t Make Your Mind Up’s bland reassurance: “It doesn’t get easier /the longer you go… but I know”.
Of course, those who’ve studied Cheever’s work might beg to differ: it’s quite possible that numerous references to the author’s writing are woven carefully throughout Golden Suits. And what’s ultimately the biggest problem with this record isn’t its conceptual failure but rather its unerring tastefulness. At times it’s crying out for a bit of grit, a bit of danger or maybe just a big, dirty guitar riff – anything, really, to jolt the album out of its overly academic atmosphere. As it stands, Golden Suits is a lovely record, but one that could benefit from loosening up a little.