On Painted White, his first disc with Missing Monuments, singer and guitarist King Louie Bankston (here credited only as “Loomis”) combines the energy and maturity of a teenager with severe pop songwriting and recording sophistication.
Drums sit way back in the mix, but this works as the band strives to create classic garage pop. Even in the music’s rockinest moments, the tough guitars jangle, until Julien Fried throws out a burst of distorted melodic shredding. Every song features great guitar work (for fans of Television, R.E.M., Lemonheads) that often switches from simple chords to unique interplay, plus attention-getting rock solos, all of it turned up extra loud.
In front of all of that are Louie’s vocals. For what his voice sometimes lacks, he makes up for here in conviction and an ability to layer his and his bandmates’ voices in casually expert harmony. Louie’s self-harmonized vocals on the song “Painted White” will surprise those used to his one-man-band, which can at times sound like Cookie Monster being beaten to death with a high-hat. All this to say: the vocals here are very strong.
“Girl of the Night” (which seems to feature a high-voiced singer, not Louie), though well constructed and possessing some of the record’s strongest hooks, feels a little cloying. In its attempt to be classic, the song (and maybe one or two others) leans toward a ’50s soda-shop retro rock. “She’ll start to sway / when the band starts to play / that song she’s been requesting on the radio all day.” The idea of someone sitting by the radio all day to have a request honored when they could just go look it up on Pandora is a little corny. In “Dance All Night,” Louie goes so far as to reference “the hand-jive” and other dead dance crazes.
In the Springsteen-esque “(It’s Like) XTC,” the narrator makes clever love/drug puns while he and his main squeeze drive in the car listening to their favorite song, again, on the radio (In whatever world it is the band is trying to recreate, the radio is good and doesn’t play Lil Wayne over and over). For the rest of the song, Louie’s lyrics rise to a level of tight pop poetic cleverness that’s maintained throughout the record. “Victory Lap” includes the well-crafted line, “I know you hate my guitar / but if you break it, it’s not just my car / that would hurt much worse than just having to walk home too far.”
“All Bandaged Up,” tells, in part, the story of a loser cashing a paycheck after a physical accident. “Nite Fall” is a waltzing country prom tune with Louie playing the wild, storytelling preacher. It too suffers a bit from the soda-shop vibe but the song is more saved by poignant, funny lyrics about a flood (“I saw a staircase swimming for its life”). “Hot Class” bolts off the starting line with a Chuck Berry guitar break and boogie-woogie groove before becoming a sort of Misfits song: “Raging through the night, gonna get destroyed, drinking from your skull! / Cajun blood and booze, bodies makes the summer crash!” Lyrics almost always worth paying attention to.
If you can get down with the intermittent teenager-in-the-’50s vibe, Painted White is overall a great record.