Alluring and revolutionary, bright and buoyant, exemplary in their ability to evolve from what is expected, the Los Angeles-based musical collective known as West Indian Girl has created its majestic, engaging sophomore disc 4th & Wall, their first and long anticipated release for Milan (Emilie Simon, Lisa Gerard). On an album brimming with instant, artful pop classics, this one-time studio duo turned living, breathing modern rock sextet has vaulted beyond the electronic banner under which it once uncomfortably resided.
Launched by the expansive and amazingly memorable "Blue Wave," West Indian Girl's fusion of undeniable guitar riffs, prog-like keyboard flourishes and pulsing rhythms pour a perfect foundation for the mind-melding hook and tsunami of blissful harmonies that follow. "It's about finding the best thing in life, be it a wave or a state of mind or a perfect escape," co-founding bassist Francis Ten says.
Stemming from an infectious hook and a guitar part brought to the band by his musical partner Robert James, the ode to surfing on the bluest wave is destined to become a favorite of both discerning music lovers and aberrant fun seekers across the globe. Still, it's surprising to learn that the shimmering, sun-streaked anthem (and its parent album) was crafted amid the decaying, urban environs where the group's studio resides. And it's that corner of the world that gives West Indian Girl - which also counts vocalist Mariqueen Maandig, keyboardist Nathan Van Hala, drummer Mark Lewis and keyboardist/vocalist Amy White - its album title.
"4th & Wall is our hidden sanctuary," Rob explains. "It's in an old warehouse surrounded by a humble community of homeless people living in cardboard boxes and tents. They're our captive audience, listening to us every night in the rain, cold and sweltering heat. We play for them as much for ourselves. It's the place where we conjure up spirits and manifest visions - visions of a better place."
To which Fran succinctly interjects, "There's piss and shit and rats. Therein lies the dichotomy, because our record is the antithesis of that."
As evidenced by the gorgeous, lilting soundscape "All My Friends," the trippy surf-meets-soul concoction "Up The Coast," and the exquisitely crafted, synth-bolstered mid-tempo rocker "To Die in LA," 4th & Wall gives off an intoxicating, irresistible vibe with images of beautiful ocean views. Light years away from their facility's dirty concrete and broken bottle glass world, the beach is alive in its members via the lilting, dreamy float of "Indian Ocean," and the aforementioned "Blue Wave."
"It's become a subconscious thing when you live in Southern California. We're all just fifteen minutes or so from the beach," Fran says. "I just think it becomes part of you." To which Rob adds, "It's funny how being close to a massive ocean seeps into your consciousness. The waves, the deep blue horizons, the sound, the animals...there's a parallel universe out there. It can't be ignored."
Since its brief but successful stint with Astralwerks - which produced their eponymous 2004 debut and a subsequent Remix EP - Rob and Fran have morphed West Indian Girl into the current six member creative workforce behind 4th & Wall. With Mariqueen and Mark firmly in place, the group's founders faced a series of critical challenges, working through each with finesse and aplomb. These included the January 2006 addition of Nathan (after the departure of their original keyboardist) and the January 2007 induction of Amy, thereby rounding out the current lineup.
Perfecting its craft with incessant touring, be it as headliners or sharing stages with bands like Gomez, The Album Leaf, Fischerspooner, Of Montreal, Apples in Stereo, Turin Brakes, My Morning Jacket and Phoenix, the road dogs in West Indian Girl count recent appearances at Sundance, plus exemplary performances at the San Diego Street Scene and All Good Festival as highlights.
Bolstered by the gorgeous presence and phenomenal range of Mariqueen, West Indian Girl takes its spirited live show to a level few acts can rival. These triumphant gigs are steered by the enthusiasm this band has for its songs. Crafted and edited meticulously by the group as a whole, it is not uncommon for the six piece to construct, deconstruct and change as the group collaborates.
"The songwriting process is ever growing," Rob explains. "There's never a shortage of ideas from everyone. I bring in a lot of the ideas, but really the creative spark can come from any single member in the band. Once the idea is out there, it goes through an elaborate filtration process. I help guide the ship but everyone gets involved."
As for the harmonies, best exhibited on "Blue Wave" and the uplifting anthem "Get Up," vocalist Mariqueen says, "I think harmonies are a natural thing for our band. Our voices tend to blend really well together, so we try to maximize that when it makes sense. When someone comes up with a melody, we're just looking to take it to the next level and make everything better. We're never satisfied with our first attempts. Sometimes we'll work on a song for six months until we get it the way we want it. It's a collective approach."
Perhaps it's that drive for perfection that makes 4th & Wall stand out from the musical pack in 2007. Recording, producing and mixing on their own, Rob - who assumed the Executive Producer role - acquiesces that the process is "as fantastically magical as it is deeply insane."
"Each of us has a strong personality and a vision," the frontman continues. "We've learned to trust and respect each other. Not to say there weren't any arguments along the way, there were...many. In the end, we became stronger and more unified as a band because of it."
The record's lone dark moment, "Rise From The Dead," for instance, chronicles this. "It has opened a door for us to try something new," Fran says. "It kind of defies what people expect from us, but our studio is surrounded by the underbelly of society. When we create, that element is just outside our door. So, even though we're often writing from an opposite perspective, that world can't help but creep into what we do. It's less of "Surf's Up" mentality, musically, although lyrically, it fits right in with West Indian Girl philosophy. You know, to rise up and love again."
West Indian Girl unabashedly bursts to life, wielding their own musical credo in "Get Up," yet another airwave-ripe pop gem rife with brilliant harmonies and dense orchestration. "It's so easy to be negative," says Rob of the need for optimism in music. "Our brains are trained to judge and find flaws. It happens in every facet of society...politics, business, sports. Everything. The pursuit of happiness seems to be wrapped up in removing our 'imperfections'. Personally, I believe there's a better way to process the world."
For the members of West Indian Girl, the band and its music is an extreme source of happiness. "Performing is one of the only things in life that validates my existence," says Mariqueen. "It makes my soul shine when I'm singing the music that this band has created."
To which Rob adds, "Playing music within a group can be very cathartic. This band is the closest thing to religion in our lives. Not that I believe in any form of religion, in fact, it's probably the cause of a lot of human dissension and destruction. I'm talking about religion in its purest form - being spiritually connected to yourself and something greater."
As for the band's aspirations for 4th & Wall, Mariqueen admits, "I want to see it in every establishment all over the world. I want this album to transcend time and genres. I want to see everyone in the audience singing the lyrics back to us when we play shows. Basically, I want the whole world to know it, live it and love it."
You've been given your instructions. "Blue Wave" awaits you. See if you can resist it.