Material: Hear ye, hear ye—Los Angeles’ answer to the Strokes may have finally arrived. The Narwhals were founded about five years ago, right around the time they became teenagers, and shortly after their inception, they met with major record labels after winning a radio contest. Now they’re all grown up (not really) and playing with more charisma than most musicians twice their age (yes really). Their songs are simple, but this shiny squad is a far cry from punk-rock. Think garage-pop, at its most optimistic.
Musicianship: In pop music, keeping it simple can often be a foolproof formula—particularly if there are strong melodies involved. But because the Narwhals are in short supply of both melodies and choruses, their rudimentary musicianship is unfortunately thrust into the spotlight. Thanks to an over-reliance on basic chord structures and one-or two-note guitar solos, the band members’ performances often land with a whimper despite their clearly ambitious attitude.
Performance: Drawing shrieks reminiscent of Cheap Trick at Budokan, the Narwhals are a slam-dunk with the female set, largely due to dueling singer/guitarists Minnette (who looks like a long-lost Jonas brother) and Lemasters (a bit scruffier, but almost equally handsome). Dressed unpretentiously in jeans and flannel, the down-to-earth foursome work the crowd with ease, coming across like a cleaner, younger, less druggy version of the aforementioned Strokes. Their experience playing at iconic L.A. venues like the Troubadour and the Whisky a Go Go has obviously paid off.
Summary: The Narwhals have a lot of growing up to do in the songwriting department. To the extent that they have strong musical abilities buried underneath their uneven material, they need to show it off with the same confidence they have when strutting around the stage. The band members excel when their songs reach explosive climaxes, but unfortunately those moments are few and far between. They can get a crowd in the palm of their hand with seemingly no effort; if they could only craft a few tunes with radio potential, they might start going places.
- Kurt Orzeck