Baby Carrot – Play Every Day

Baby Carrot
Play Every Day

Sammy Hagar was wrong: There is more than one way to rock. There are several, as it turns out, and Baby Carrot has found one that I wasn’t aware of. This band is well familiar with pop and classic alternative sounds, but that doesn’t mean that they use them in conventional ways. Instead of being foundations for the songs, the pop elements are used as decorations for more math-rock based explorations. Why? Because the man can’t tell ’em not to, sucko!

While Baby Carrot is at heart a pop-oriented band, don’t expect easy accessibility. It sounds as if the band has absorbed a lot of music during the past decade or so, and much of their tastes have been on the outer edge of accessibility. As a result, there isn’t one area you can pinpoint as to where the band is coming from. They’ve thrown away the map and compass and struck out on their own, but you can tell where the journey has taken them thus far. They’ve clearly spent some time with math rock, as the different parts in the songs don’t always fit together seamlessly, and the band loves to throw in the occasional odd time signature. They’ve enjoyed the music of Sebadoh and Superchunk, with a particular attraction to these bands’ more meandering moments. They appreciate the melodies and the lyrical content of Pavement. Although the band features a stripped down trio sound, that also doesn’t prevent them from performing extended instrumental explorations, either. The fact that they’ve hidden their most pop-influenced songs (one buried in the middle and the other at the end of the record as a bonus track) tells you that these guys are not very interested in being an accessible band. They seem to be trying to close the door on any traces of a straightforward pop sound.

That door swings pretty wide in both directions for the band. Take tracks 5 and 6, “Forgot to Read” and “Halfway.” The former is so pop-oriented that it doesn’t even sound like it belongs on the record, with its perky chorus and harmonica solo. Then immediately following that is the 6-plus minute “Half Way,” which is a depressing Modest Mouse-like dirge. The press release indicates that these songs were gathered over a period of eight years, which might explain some of the cases of stylistic whiplash that will occur while listening. But something tells me the band likes it this way.

Usually with records that feature different styles, I end up latching on to one particular song that really sums up what the band is all about. On this record, “Kids These Days” is the standout. This long, meandering “day in the life” tale of an indie nerd has it all. The song is a sort of Pavement-math hybrid, featuring quiet and laid back verses that blossom to a majestic, “big payoff” chorus, and the band isn’t afraid to stop along the way to explore the scenery. This song should make it on to more than a few mix tapes.

While Baby Carrot is a unique band in many ways, they have made a sacrifice in hiding their catchier moments. Many bands are forced to play math rock: They often lack an adequate singer, and as a result they don’t focus on vocal melodies, in favor of providing intricate instrumental heroics and creating more atmospheric songs. What we have here is a band with good vocal abilities and a gift at coming up with melodies. The choice to “math out” is entirely their own, but you might find yourself wishing they would utilize their pop skills more often, simply because you can hear that they’d be really good at it. But they seem to take such great delight in sabotaging these moments that you might not even think about it. Accomplished, challenging, and very quirky, Baby Carrot should be a hit with die-hard indie rock fans who don’t want their pop spoon-fed to them.