There's just something about lo-fi garage rock that makes it so endearing, and Bill Times a Billion is no exception. The Buffalo-based duo is composed of drummer/vocalist (and occasional trumpeter) Liz Brown and her guitarist companion Ramesh Pillay. The pair churns out fuzzy, stripped down garage rock a la the White Stripes if Meg White was the singer. And on their subtler moments, they sound a bit like the mid-2000's indie/emo saviors in Rainer Maria. Either way, in true lo-fi fashion, the band recorded a bunch of songs in an attic and mixed the batch themselves, culminating in their new release, Say it Nicer.
Say it Nicer is a collection of eight songs; five originals and three covers. It clocks in at a brief, but satisfying 14 minutes. Make no mistakes, you might be able to blare Say it Nicer twice on your way to work, but brevity works out in their favor. Lo-fi rock like this just works better if the songs are kept brief and to the point. It's charming.
I'll jump right into my favorite moment on Say it Nicer - the wistful "Name It What You Want." Say it Nicer has a sort of dichotomy that I wasn't expecting. A little background info: on my first listen through SIN, I was expecting a collection of eight female-fronted fuzz-rock songs. After all, garage-rock like this is usually loud, fun, and full of attitude pretty much exclusively. You know that lame joke about "assuming," right?
I like lo-fi and fuzzy, but it is good to know that bands like Bill Times a Billion can take a step back and write something that shows a bit of heart on their sleeves. "Name It What You Want" takes a repeating clean guitar riff and repeats it under Brown's metaphorical lyrics - "It's been a long time coming, it's been here all along." The song is over before even two minutes pass, but needless to say, it's the song that leaves one of the biggest impressions off of Say it Nicer. Same with "Talking With The Sky;" it's gentle and pretty - simple as that.
Brown and Pillay also keep it cool with the instrumental "Interlude," which is the only time they venture away from their tried and true guitar/drums instrumentation. Brown's trumpet playing is unexpected, but a little experimentation from Bill Times a Billion goes a long way. Also on the laid back side is one of their cover songs, "Motor Away" - an interesting departure from the originally aggressive version by Guided By Voices. Brown and Pillay initially put their own spin on the song, emphasizing the simple melody behind GBV's brash delivery. But soon enough, they revisit the fuzz of the original - it's a nice combination of the two polar opposite identities that Bill Times a Billion seem to embrace.
I never did mention their garage rock sensibilities though - "The Luxury" is Say it Nicer's angular punk kick off, which has my personal favorite ending on the album. Pillay just sort of stops playing, and it sounds awesome. Same with their cover of Tommy James and the Shondelles' (or Tiffany?) "I Think We're Alone Now." It's reminiscent of the White Stripes' cover of Tegan and Sara's "Walking With a Ghost." It takes the sugary pop of the song and turns it into something crunchy (and equally as catchy) with indie cred.
All in all, Bill Times a Billion is a simple band with simple songs - but that's all they have to be. Say it Nicer is only fourteen minutes long - but would Bill Times a Billion really be the same if they wrote five minute songs? I think not - so enjoy cranking this fun garage-pop twice on your commute to work.