By Tom Lynch
Local septet The 1900s raced upon the scene in 2006 with a surprising six-song EP called “Plume Delivery” (Parasol), a small collection the band recorded before it even played its first show. The sound—a bit of a throwback to the whimsy of The Velvet Underground and The Zombies—caught the ear of the press and the band quickly became a local critics’ favorite, while its live shows packed in interested scenesters.
Countless successful shows around town—including a slot in the afternoon heat at this summer’s Lollapalooza—helped solidify the group as one of the city’s bright new bands, destined for bigger things at any moment, and “Cold & Kind,” The 1900s’ debut full-length, again on Parasol, is certainly the vessel. Expanding on “Plume Delivery”’s sound, a bit cleaner, a bit tighter, a bit more Fleetwood Mac, “Cold & Kind” is the record you’d expect from The 1900s. More serene than its EP predecessor, the album is quiet, reflective, a carefully crafted trek into the annals of sentimentality. The vocal harmonies, string arrangements and boy-girl trade-off vocals converge into a warm, melodic peace.
“I’d say that I think I approached it with a bit more confidence as far as my vocal arrangements and lyrics go, the little bit of lyrics I contributed,” says vocalist Jeanine O’Toole of the band’s mindset while it created the record. “I think—like everyone else in the band—I felt more confident in the way we put things together.” She continues, “Last time, we were still getting to know each other when we were making the first record. There was a lot of politeness, ‘I can do this,’ ‘Maybe you should do that.’ This time everybody was a little more blunt, and unafraid to bring up ideas. [There was] a lot more openness, a lot of brutal honesty going on.”
“We wanted to do something more epic than the EP,” vocalist and guitarist Edward Anderson says. “A little more in your face, a little more solid.”
“[The songs] are a bit tighter,” O’Toole says. “For the most part, the songs on the record are pop songs, with a beginning, middle and end, each telling a different story. The songs are shorter, more concise. There’s more editing going on. On the first record, we’d let the chorus go for a second time, just because. On this record there was a lot of editing, keeping only what’s best.”
She says there isn’t a preconceived notion of what The 1900s should be, that the material develops naturally. “I don’t think anybody feels we need to sound like this, play a show like this, look or act like this,” she says. “Things have opened up in the last year or so, we’re more comfortable with each other, for better or worse. Decisions are made based on what we all think should happen. There doesn’t seem to be any outside influence.”
Anderson sees “Cold & Kind” thematically as a continuation of “Plume Delivery.” “It kind of has this idea of escape,” he says, “it kind of plays with the idea the last song on the EP had, ‘If we left all earthly things behind.’ This album starts from that idea, going on a journey of leaving all the stuff that doesn’t matter behind and focusing on the things that really matter.”
The record, even in just its arrangements, shows a deeper maturity, from the illustrious balladry of a song called “City Water” to a small, but perfect and gorgeous, guitar lead on closer “Wool of the Lamb.” Either a band grows or falls to pieces—it will rarely stay idle—and The 1900s are definitely moving forward. “We’ve definitely grown, like in our bellies,” Anderson jokes, and then seconds O’Toole’s sentiment, “but I think we’ve become much more confident, knowing what we can and can’t do. Maybe a year ago, we didn’t know what it would be like to play a big show. It was kind of scary, but we played with Iron and Wine for 1,300 people. Having the ability to do that and knowing you can do that, it’s a good feeling. You gain confidence in yourself.”
O’Toole says the overwhelming positive response the band has received since last year was unexpected. “I don’t think anybody expects positive attention,” she says. “But we also really worked for it. I’d be lying if I said the band was getting together writing songs for fun. We do it with the intention of other people hearing it. That’s the nature of happy, sentimental music. We have nostalgic pop music, and you don’t make that kind of music if you don’t want to share it with others. So we have a feeling of relief and gratitude that anybody likes the music at all.”
The 1900s celebrate the release of “Cold & Kind” October 12 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, at 10pm. $8.