The Courtesy Tier
Map and a Marker
In this current indie landscape where countless bands seem intent on churning out inaccessible albums in the name of experimentation, The Courtesy Tier’s straightforward blues/garage rock hybrid sounds out of place. Of course there are still plenty of indie bands who understand that muddying the water just to make it look deep doesn’t always work, and that sometimes lyrical and musical directness and a lack of bullshit frills is the best approach. Still – to these aging 31-year old ears at least – too often modern albums fail because they try to accomplish too much, with too many studio tricks, synths, layers, reverbs, bells, whistles, cocks and weenies thrown into the mix. If I sound like a Luddite, so be it, but it’s hard to argue that such studio and software program excesses haven’t hindered more albums than they’ve helped.
Although it won’t spawn any new musical genres, The Courtesy Tier’s Map and a Marker succeeds because of its direct and organic approach. Its five songs pulse with ringing guitars, insistent drums, soaring lead vocals and occasional background harmonies. A Brooklyn-based duo consisting of Omer Leibovitz (guitar/vocals) and Layton Weedeman (drums/vocals), the band approaches each track quite similarly, reducing the songs to their most basic elements. From opener “Buddy Casey” to closer “While I’m Gone,” the songs’ momentum never really lets up. There are few wasted notes and no extraneous filler here; even the sometimes-lengthy instrumental breaks found on most songs (especially “Friend”) do not sound overindulgent in the least.
The mix is likewise punchy and vibrant; in a welcome break from the incoherent sludge that too often comes across this reviewer’s ears, the vocals are up front and entirely audible. Leibovitz’s voice is strong and fits in nicely with the songs’ arrangements, avoiding those ticks and histrionics that tend to invite parody and well-deserved derision from indie fans. While not remarkable, the lyrics avoid gut-wrenching poetics and are solid enough, with “Cold” heavy with fatalistic undertones and “While I’m Gone” ambiguous in its narrator’s intentions (why does the narrator keep advising someone to not leave the porch light on?). Map and a Marker sounds labored over and crafted but not excessively so; the duo’s instrumental proficiency is apparent throughout but never makes the songs feel clinical or predictable.
At a shade over 20 minutes, Map and a Marker is brief, but as an EP it offers a great introduction to The Courtesy Tier. Though the duo’s style is not revolutionary and other bands mine similar musical territory – I can already see the inevitable comparisons to The Black Keys – the songs here are both unpretentious and uniformly excellent, with an economy of playing that bypasses fluff in favor of substance. While there’s always pause for praising a band too much based only on an EP, Map and a Marker shows a band playing to its strengths and foregoing those studio embellishments in favor of something immediate and direct.
by Eric Dennis