Lake Street Dive knows how to make noise. Armed with only a standup bass, drums, a trumpet, the occasional guitar, and three sets of lungs, the Boston-born, Brooklyn-based indie outfit puts on an electrifying live show, a big, joyful racket that defies their sparse instrumentation.
Despite having a devoted, almost rabid, following, the group has failed to generate buzz on a national scale. Its fans obviously recognize what the rest of the country has not: Lake Street Dive is one of those rare collaborations that is greater than the sum of its few parts.
The band’s four members met as students at Boston’s New England Conservatory, so naturally their music showcases some serious chops. What’s surprising is how easily they channel this jazz-inflected precision into their particular brand of songwriting-driven, R&B-influenced indie-pop. Bassist Bridget Kearney, drummer Mike Calabrese, and trumpet player/guitarist Mike Olson all write songs with irresistible hooks and clever lyrics, leaving vocalist Rachael Price, a singer of extraordinary depth and ability, to breathe full-throated life into their lovelorn musical ruminations.
Lake Street Dive’s self-titled third album was released in 2010 on Signature Sounds and nicely captures the band’s natural, stripped-down sound. What it doesn’t quite do is deliver the in-your-face energy of their live shows; the album was recorded on a tight budget and the band’s life-sized loudness seems to have shrunk to fit the smallness of the packaging. That said, Lake Street Dive is an infinitely listenable record, full of catchy riffs, tasty grooves, and well-chosen words. There are several references to the Beatles—the first song is titled “Hello? Goodbye!”—and Lake Street Dive more than lives up to the inevitable comparison, with tightly-written pop tunes about the travails of twenty-something urban romance. Though it delves deep into well-worn pop territory, the material never falls flat, colored as it is with biting humor and a disarming openness that belies its darker undercurrents.
Equally impressive is the facility with which the group fuses so many musical influences, from classic rock to jazz to pop to soul, all with an eye towards concise, lyric-driven songwriting. From the jangling, Beatles-esque guitar intro to “Henriette,” to the sultry trumpet solo on the ballad “My Heart’s In Its Right Place,” to the Motown-inspired hook on “Miss Disregard,” Lake Street Dive deftly combines these disparate elements into a complete, compelling package, which they offer up with such skill and obvious joy it’s impossible not to get swept up, too.