Eugene Weekly : Music : 4.24.08

Yeltsin’s shiny new CD

First off, let’s strangle the albatross hanging around Yeltsin’s neck. They’re not Russian; their name is not a reference to Boris; the band doesn’t even like the name all that much. But they think it’s better than Neltsin. Secondly, let’s discuss Yeltsin’s penchant for writing songs at a snail’s pace. Their first five-song EP came out in 2003, and two years later they released their first full-length, We Will Be a Factory — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that their trickling stream of songs is not exactly … factory-ish. But like a piece of handcrafted Amish furniture, Yeltsin’s music wears its crisp and clean workmanship on its sleeve; the songs are tightly crafted, catchy-as-all-get-out pop gems.

Now, a full three years later, the Eugene trio is releasing a new batch of songs and the album is called A Closer Walk with Yeltsin. If Yeltsin’s earlier output was more Posies-style pop, the new material is definitely more rock with shiny pop edges, à la Matthew Sweet. Singer/guitarist Jacob Pavlak says that the band was going for a more driving rock sound on A Closer Walk. “[This album] is a lot different than the last record. It has more energy … the last one was sleepier. We just got better at songwriting and we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do,” he says. But as far as craftsmanship, the band didn’t perform some major perestroika (had to get that Russian reference in there). Yeltsin is still the tight as sardines band that they’ve always been; they just rock a little harder now.

On the opening track, “Meditations,” Pavlak’s vocals are fuzzed and phased out over a syrupy, sermony organ line and propelling bass and drums. With a cool but uncontrived detachment, Pavlak sings, “It was a broken world they gave me / It was spinning off its axis / It was on fire before I got here / It took the children under ashes” before a wall of Weezer-laced guitars drops in over some oh-oh-ohs. On many songs, Pavlak tips his hat to the über-poppy, amusing character-sketch stylings of Fountains of Wayne. On “The Stranger Machine,” the singer bemoans a dysfunctional relationship as he woahs, “Your mother’s new boyfriend is drunk in the grass, I saw him / He sat by the window and smoked all his hash, well oh no.” Throughout the album, guitars give off thick power pop chords, while Dana Axon’s steady bass and Jivan Valpey’s no-frills drumming keep the head-bobbing quotient at its highest. In all honesty, with Yeltsin playing three shows in one day, you should probably bring a neck brace.

Yeltsin Saturday, April 26: 4 pm, CD World. All ages. Free; 6:30 pm, Sam Bond’s Garage, with The Davies. All ages. $3; 9:30 pm, Sam Bond’s Garage, with Tractor Operator. 21+ show. $5.