For every quick-soaring, semi-original band to come along, there’s a dozen or so rip-offs jostling for position in the jet stream. Because of this, young Oklahoma City act IndianGiver’s methods are all the more stirring, beginning with a touchstone and building something of its own on top. With Understudies, there’s the feeling that somewhere along the way, the band’s members vocalized a collective love of Grizzly Bear and a desire to begin a journey toward the same folk-rock-meets-baroque-pop mold.
This isn’t such a bad thing. A) There are far worse bands to aspire to be and B) IndianGiver isn’t content to set its wheels into the tracks of Veckatimest or Yellow House like a glorified cover band, instead treating the material as a launching pad, not a lane to follow. With a title like Understudies, you get the sense that IndianGiver is self-aware in this respect, and thankfully so. True to form, the four-track EP acts as a new player waiting in the wings to put its mark on a role, bringing enough nuances and mannerisms to feel reverent of the source material yet eager to find its own identity.
IndianGiver is more than willing to and capable of throwing wrenches into the formula, as you hear in the wildly percussive and punctuated “Naked Feet.” The band feels more at ease with the flare-ups that Grizzly Bear is oft quick to extinguish. And where its heroes construct an intricate weave of lines to carefully color in, IndianGiver is keen to bleed through the boundaries, embracing the frays, tangles and knots as character-builders, not imperfections. It’s music that fans psych-folk flames with ornate pop kindling, driven as much by primal thrills as heady pursuits.
Opener “Deep Deep Deep” and “Deuteragonist” both carry sweet, cinematic flair, big in scope but small in their intimacy. The songs swell with rich, majestic instrumentation — both proficiently played and tastefully arranged — and tightly packed melodies, filling their five-minute run times with little to no filler. It doesn’t hurt that Jazzton Rodriguez and Zach Pearson’s vocals make for a spiritual match to Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen’s. Their layered harmonies and interplay are similar (an especially beautiful stretch plays out mid-“Deuteragonist”), but they are given longer leashes. A croon can turn into a howl or yelp on a dime, quick to remind that even if the band feels domesticated on the surface, it’s still a wild beast underneath.
And that feels true for IndianGiver as a whole. At times, it stumbles and struggles to find its legs (closer “Clarity Moment” is a bit hollow, messy and overlong), but it’s clearly getting closer while letting its fangs and claws grow. Perhaps the band’s first full-length effort will be the final step in becoming a species of its very own.