An affair to remember

N.Y. power-poppers have a flair for the dramatic and loads of promise.

Jay Boller

Bombastic. Grandiose. Theatrical.

The above words do not describe indie rock bands. They certainly don’t describe unsigned and barely-out-of-college indie rock bands.

But then again, there is The XYZ Affair.

The New York band is a classic example of big-fish small-pond syndrome. Formed by Alex Feder, Chris Bonner and Sam Rockwell in the early part of the decade, the band has since recorded a surprisingly glossy debut record and filmed an absurdly kick-ass video. Their sound – commonly described as “Weezer meets Queen” – is like nothing currently lurking in the unsigned-underground music world.

“We sort of play really big, anthemic, cock-rockish, indie-rockish stuff. Most other stuff in recent years is much looser sounding or much more dancy-disco rock,” explained Feder. “We’re sorta too pop for indie and too indie for pop,” added Rockwell.

Actually, if it were not for their literate lyrics and tinge of irony, their sound would not seem out of place blasting from an AMC Pacer in any mall parking lot (circa 1980). Think disjointed and artfully crafted arena rock. To see them play venues like the tiny Nomad Pub, which they did this past Saturday, feels suspiciously like what it must have been to see Weezer or Queen play before they reached their respective successes.

Most unsigned bands have an identity-finding record or two, but The XYZ Affair has impressively forged their own unique sound just one record in. The most appealing aspect of the band is their lack of pretension. Lo-fi noise experiments that pass as bands are the current indie trend; but pop music is fun and the XYZ Affair has not forgotten this.

When you’re cruising in your car full of friends, would you rather hear the hushed musings of Panda Bear or rock your collective asses off? Exactly.

The decidedly hip XYZ Affair draws influence from some rather un-hip sources.

“I listen to a lot of musical theater,” explained chief songwriter Feder. “Paticularily the ’80s production of Pirates of Penzance. I’ve quite actively ripped it off.”

Feder’s soaring falsetto and his bandmates’ knights-of-the-round-table chants can wear a tad thin, but there’s enough underlying tact to keep the band honest. If the towering hooks in their songs are not enough of a draw, any self respecting person born in the late ’80s will/should celebrate their music-video debut.

Remember “Double Dare,” “Solute Your Shorts,” “Pete & Pete” and “Clarissa Explains It All?” First-years reading this may not, but for the rest of us, those early ’90s Nickelodeon shows were fixtures of our early years. Why am I mentioning golden-era Nickelodeon shows in this far less-cool Hanna Montana era we find ourselves in? Because The XYZ Affair were good enough to assemble a handful of presumably unemployed stars from the aforementioned shows to cameo in their video for “All My Friends.” Apparently, the early ’90s youth-army has taken notice.

“Since the video, we have a pretty solid crowd that comes to shows and we get much more press,” said Russ Maschmeyer, who became the band’s fourth member two years ago.

The high-concept piece finds the band as they attempt to exact revenge on “Double Dare’s” Marc Summers because he’s narc-ing on their noise level. Craftier than most, Summers has the last laugh amid a blizzard of slime and rock ‘n’ roll. It was a day that Maschmeyer describes as “the best day of my life.”

(A personal aside: If I were to picture an ideal fantasy afternoon, it would undoubtedly feature Nickelodeon stars of yesteryear, rock music, a party and be within the confines of my apartment. The XYZ Affair are dream thieves. Anyway, for a nostalgia trip that’s heroin-strong, I strongly advise Youtube-ing this gem.)

The band has plans to begin recording their follow up to “A Few More Published Studies” when their tour concludes this spring. Possessing a sound and style light-years beyond the self-released circuit, expect them to get big. Fast.

The last thing our world needs is a hype-laden group of hip indie rockers from New York who worship Joy Division. Thankfully, with the XYZ Affair, the world is getting a hype-laden group of hip indie rockers who worship Gilbert & Sullivan, Justin Timberlake and Motown. An associate of mine lives by the mantra “Fun is fun.” I subscribe to this, and it can be safely assumed The XYZ Affair do as well.