Social Studies Should Go Back to School

Social Studies

Wind Up Wooden Heart

Released on Jul 27, 2010


People say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. My mom always told me that if I couldn’t say anything nice then I shouldn’t say anything at all. Of course the editors at Heave Media say it’s ok to write a negative review.  So please excuse me if I sound conflicted. I don’t want to be mean or say bad things about anyone. I’ve tried to be a performer -- not a musician but I’ve done stand-up and improv comedy -- so I highly respect how hard it is to put yourself and your art out in public for people you don’t know to critique.

Having said all of that, I really hated the new album from the band Social Studies. Lead singer and keyboardist Natalia Rogovin has a nice voice that sounds especially good in a more upbeat tracks where I was reminded of Katrina and the Waves. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything else about this release that I enjoyed.

Most frustrating for me was the song structure or lack thereof. The majority of the songs on Wind Up Wooden Heart were full of random tempo and lyrical changes that wandered all over without giving the listener anything to grab on to. Add in the fact that Rogovin’s keyboard sounds like it is from either a traveling carnival or a late 1980’s videogame soundtrack and you have the basis of my disdain. 

Now interestingly, while researching the band prior to writing this review it appears that those very characteristics that I hated most about Wind Up Wooden Heart are exactly what the band was shooting for. According to their bio, “What distinguishes the San Francisco-based group is their eclectic, complex song writing: unusual structures and mathy beats are tempered by soft edges and danceable Casio hooks.” Another passage references how the band breaks out of the traditional “verse, chorus, verse” structure. Unfortunately, there’s a reason that structure is the gold standard. It makes it easy for the listener to follow along and enjoy the song.

The album was engineered by Jay Pellicci who plays in a number of groups including Deerhoof. According to Antenna Farm Records, Wind Up Wooden Heart “tempers the experimental lines of Deerhoof.” So in an effort to be thorough I listened to a couple of Deerhoof tracks. While I wouldn’t say I’m going to be dropping any Deerhoof music onto my iPod anytime soon, I did appreciate and essentially enjoy what I heard. It had energy and was very unique. Unfortunately I just can’t say the same for Social Studies.

So, going back to what I said at the very beginning of this review; one man’s trash can be another’s treasure. The fact that the band sees all the features I hate as the base of their appeal must mean there are people whose musical sensibilities fit in with the sound that Social Studies is cultivating, but it sure isn’t me.

High Point

Natalia Rogovinís voice especially on the more up-tempo songs.

Low Point

Everything else.

Posted by Mike Stern on Aug 11, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

social studies, wind up wooden heart, review