Robbers On High Street – Tree City

Robbers On High StreetTree City (New Line)

There is a fine line that exists between paying homage to one’s influences and completely ripping them off to the point where your own band could very easily be called “______, Junior.” In the case of Robbers On High Street’s full-length debut Tree City, well, ladies and gentlemen, meet Spoon, Junior.

Their MySpace profile states that they’ve been playing together since 2002, and furthermore claims that Tree City is “the first great rock and roll album of 2005.” It’s baffling, then, that this collection of songs could sound so derivative. Everything that makes Spoon so beloved to its fans is echoed to the point of insanity here: the particular guitar twang, the melodies, the occasional subtle piano, the literate wordplay, even singer Ben Trokan’s voice sounds infuriatingly like Britt Daniel’s.

This is not to say that Tree City isn’t pleasant to listen to or not clever enough. In particular, “Japanese Girls” has a studied, love-and-the-rest-of-the-bullshit-weary cool, and “Big Winter” is lovely, in an acoustic, jaunty, early Spoon sort of way. It’s just that if this record has anything new to bring to the table at all, it’s cocooned itself so heavily in its own influences that it’s impossible to discern what exactly that something is.

There’s a lot of potential in these songs, and a lot of skilled musicianship, and they’re clearly enjoying themselves here. Perhaps this is just a case of a band that needs time to grow into itself and transcend its influences. In the meantime, and unfortunately so, Tree City can be summed up with a line from its own “Bring On The Terror:” “Sometimes I need a punch in the face, sometimes I need a leg in the ass.” And it’s a goddamn shame, too.

7 thoughts on “Robbers On High Street – Tree City”

  1. I didnt’ like this ablum either. There will be people who love it – people with less discriminating taste (we’ve already admitted we’re music snobs, right?) – as this is on the surface a nice-sounding, enjoyable album. I found the problem not to be “Spoon, Junior” (haven’t listened to much Spoon), but instead that there isn’t much depth to the music. After two times through the album, I felt I had heard all there was to hear. But still, this could make it to the radio, sell some records, etc. Overall they have a very listenable style.

  2. Awww, poor Robbers on High Street. You might re-evaluate “Tree City” once you hear “Gimme Fiction.” Yeck.

  3. this record is actually really great. i usually agree with you but this time you don’t really have anything original to say (see pitchfork et al)…they have a piano. he sounds like britt daniel…that’s about it.

  4. All valid criticisms. I saw these guys live at the black cat in DC on the 5th. They have pretty much no identity of their own. Strange they were opening for Ambulance LTD, who kind of fit that mold as well.

  5. Can’t say I’m that familiar with Spoon, but after reading your review I listened to a few of their songs–I can see the similarities, but the two bands are hardly identical. I’ve been going to see Robbers on High Street since they started, and honestly think they’re one of the best NYC bands around…. and although they sound a bit better live, I still love this album. For what it’s worth, I love Ambulance LTD too.

  6. i love spoon, and yes, i love robbers on high street, and even more to the point i have very discriminating taste when it comes to what i listen to. i hear the similarities bw both bands, but i also hear the similarities bw fugazi and america is waiting and those are perhaps two of my favorite bands. nobody is ripping anybody off here, except for lazy journalists. the records great. and live, robbers on high street are worth the price of admission and then some (like $10 more for Tree City).

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