Total Babe | Heatwave EP
Most Likely To: make that mopey, acoustic guitar strumming 16-year-old girl you know feel worse about herself than she already does, so don’t let her hear it.
Dakota Fanning was recently voted Homecoming Queen at her high school. This is very nice for her, as she seems to be a decent enough kid as celebrities go. However, one must wonder what this does for the self-esteem of all the other girls in her school, the ones who know they’ll never work with Tom Cruise or Sean Penn or appear in a Twilight movie, but harbored some hopes of achieving a measure of acclaim in high school at least. But nope, the honors go to Dakota there, too, squelching their young hopes and dreams. That’s the trouble with associating with youngsters possessed of freakish precocity – they tend to make their peers’ lives suck that much more.
The 16- and 17-year-olds in the Minneapolis band Total Babe are likewise sure to crush the esteem of less talented teens nationwide (and make more than a few adults curse their own never-realized potential). On Heatwave, their debut EP, the little misses and young masters deliver six songs of beguiling acoustic indie-pop with nary a dud in the lot (though the closing instrumental “Country” tiptoes right up to the edge – it’s clearly filler, but it’s well done filler). Their greatest asset is vocalist Clara Salyer, whose ethereal voice intertwines with Lizzie Carolan’s violin to create a bewitching effect that vocalists twice her age would love to pull off, and whose songwriting displays an assurance with hooks likely the envy of any songwriter who hears them.
The opener “Bearbones” matches a sprightly tempo with a bubbly keyboard line and Salyer’s purr, which sounds like a Midwestern version of The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler. Carolan’s insistent violin line fuels “Mission Hills Wall of Champions” until the song builds to a wordless hummed chorus. On “Gary Coleman,” Total Babe shoplift the central riff from Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye,” but deploy it only in brief snippets during a song which seems to have nothing to do with the titular sitcom star and more to do with feeling things too deeply. Feeling things too deeply is, of course, one of the stocks-in-trade of artistic teenaged girls, and is further demonstrated by “Short Stories,” which finds the 17-year-old Salyer unable to sleep worrying that everything she knows will eventually collapse.
That’s a worry for just about everyone, of course, but Salyer probably shouldn’t be sweating it just yet. If she plays her cards right and Heatwave is just the opening salvo in a lengthy career, she should have quite a few years ahead of her before everything begins to collapse. In the meantime, if she and her bandmates continue creating music as charming as they have here, they’ll continue making people of all ages curse their own shortcomings.