Written by Caleb Oldham
What sounds do we choose to return to? What music manages to stay relevant? What makes a song timeless?
There are, of course, two kinds of classics: those we embrace culturally and those we embrace personally. The former consists of modern pop music’s foundations and pillars - artists who no one will let die. Critics who missed their genius at the time or deliberately dissented from their growing acclaim are made fools by history. When someone makes a bold statement against them, eyebrows are raised and proverbial pots stirred - one only needs to look how much press Lou Reed's recently uncovered comment on The Beatles is getting.
And then there are the records that we personally hold dear. A friend of mine listens to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless every day. It has affected the way he listens to music, seeped into the way he writes. To him, My Bloody Valentine is timeless: it doesn't bring him back to a certain era as much as it touches all eras of his life. The kinds of sounds we as individuals choose to return to, regardless of their cultural value, can take on a deep level of importance in our day-to-day.
It shouldn't be hard to justify these personal classics, but it can feel like writing a love song to someone you're actually in love with, too often coming out clichéd and disappointing. Moreover, infatuation often withers rather than germinates - you can never really tell how a collection of songs will age. But Jen, a recent release by the Sudbury, Massachusetts quartet that calls themselves Plums, sounds like something I'll be coming back to for a while.
Put together in "bedrooms and basements," the record is the result of four longtime friends who ended up in different colleges. Bridging geography through sound, the album has a striking unity to it. It sighs and swings as one cohesive dreamy-eyed whole, trying to create a sonic homecoming for its scattered members. Perhaps part of this effect comes from the record’s warm production techniques, which favor layered vocals and Fender jaguars, a thick bass and dampened drums.
Jen is not a winter album. Even though it came out a week ago, and the lethargic, shuffling tone of tracks like "Julia Gloria" seems to harmonize with a certain fuzzy winter disorientation, Jen is a starry-eyed summer love story of a "bent out boy" and a "glitter girl." "Fine Madeline," the record's lead single, bounces and swells over two and a half minutes of catchy jangle pop. Where it lacks in subtlety, it delights in its own cheerful exuberance. Winter is not so much ignored as it is willfully dispelled.
Arguably, the difference between a cultural classic and a personal one is investment - of time, energy and by necessity, money. Plums is a band that deserves all three, but at the very least, they're worth your time.