Posted on April 28th, 2015 (1:00 pm) by Matt LaBarbera

Let’s get this out of the way: there are no Yawns. They are as immaterial as their name implies. Which leaves us with John Andrews, a very real guy, one who once pounded the drums for dreamy neo-psychedelic outfit Quilt, and tapped away at the keys for one of Woods’ recent incarnations. On his debut solo release, Bit by the Fang, he holes himself up in his grandma’s living room to record a bunch of lo-fi, hazy pop tunes. It’s a thoroughly quaint record bolstered by the same sort of wide-eyed, and red-eyed, logic that made the other outfits he’s been involved such successful pop-rock endeavors.

For someone who plays the part of the slackadaisical stoner, Andrews is surprisingly adept at composing and playing, especially since every instrument is him, pretending to be on the Yawns, exhaling with apathy as he tacks away at a sepia-tinted piano or fiddles around with a singing saw. Each song puts itself forth as a tiny and sweet pop morsel (the eponymous cut is the longest at five minutes), but rendered a little dull and dusty by the muting and flattening effect of the production. Far from a bad thing, this only adds to the charm of the songs, each one recalling indie-pop gems old and new. “Trouble (Yapes)" is a standout example of his style as a honky-tonk piano plods alongside lax percussion and the melancholic warble of the saw. His voice, present and striving, yet somehow disaffected, matches the tone of instruments even as the guitar flares up to take control of the scene. “Quitting the Circus” makes great use of the faux-atmospherics provided by the lo-fi aesthetic and the lazy pace to create an even more laid-back, sun-damaged Mac DeMarco song.

In fact, it’s not a bad idea to bring Andrews into conversation with other sort of backwoods, halfway countrified indie rock artists, especially the crowd obsessed with jangle. “Pennsylvania,” which draws on his time in Lancaster, PA, is Americana recorded not in some saloon, but on a boombox at home. The tenor of his piano and the warble in his voice (that he often matches with the instruments) really define the sound as something buried in the backyard fifteen years ago and dug up now. A cut like “Angel” brings to mind the mood and atmosphere of the Replacement’s piano rock, and “Don’t Spook the Horses” has the slightest psychedelic tinge.

Craftsmanship seems to be something of a point of pride for Andrews, but the problem also arises that he might be treading oft-walked paths, relying on blueprints from other architects. The arrangements, while always competent and sometimes great, are all too reminiscent of everything else that’s been cropping up in pop for a while. It’s far from bad, but it still makes the listener ask, “Have I already heard this?” If his vocals weren’t so cotton-mouthed, the originality of his humor might shine through and make a better impression, but for as entertaining as the lyrics for “I’ll Go To Your Funeral (If You Go To Mine)” should be, it’s hard to hear him in the mix, on top of his high-pitched drawl.

Bit By The Fang is an interesting album, namely because it does almost everything right, but the tone and temperate exclude it from the distinction of a perennial album. In that sense, there most certainly exists a contingent of listeners who will hear its chipped piano tunes, sun-speckled guitar, and laid back vocalist and really enjoy its warmth. And that’s something that the record has in spades. It’s a warm, inviting album that just wants to hang out on the porch and look out at the springtime verdure. All Bit by the Fang asks is that you give it a chance while the weather is nice.

Track List:

  1. Don't Spook The Horses
  2. Peace of Mind
  3. Angel
  4. I'll Go To Your Funeral (If You Go To Mine)
  5. Trouble (Yapes)
  6. Hear Me Out
  7. Bit By The Fang
  8. Judy & Judy
  9. Quitting The Circus
  10. Pennsylvania
  11. No Gun
John Andrews and the Yawns - Bit by the Fang Review
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