I first heard Lake Street Dive in a hot tub. Summer of 2015 in Fairlee, VT. My dear friend Will threw Bad Self Portraits on a portable speaker. Like hearing any great album for the first time, it felt like getting the cutest counselor at Summer camp, the one with dimples who laughs at your jokes. It’s the best.

That album was love at first sight and Lake Street Dive remains one of my absolute favorite bands to this day. They’re simultaneously retro and modern. They’re both accessible and sophisticated. Of course, Rachael Price’s voice speaks for itself. Upright bass is probably my favorite instrument and Bridget Kearney is a superstar. Their harmonies are buzz-inducing, their musicianship is exemplary, but what truly sets LSD apart: great songs. They just have fucking great songs.

(This is its own piece, but I’m in the camp that there are 50 amazing instrumentalists for every amazing songwriter.)

I adore this song. First of all, it clocks in at a hobbit-sized 2:14, causing me to listen to it 2-4 times on repeat during the honeymoon phase. Second of all, the riff is contagiously, intoxicatingly good. Give me a riff-based song any day of the week. There’s some cool odd meter stuff in the intro. Not sure if they’re counting in 5 or it’s just how they felt it, but it’s a nice, “yes, we all went to New England Conservatory” touch. The 8th note piano in the chorus is everything. And the percussion that sounds like horse hooves provides a nice tie-in with the animal theme in the lyrics.

Side note: anytime a song has an 8th note piano line holding down that subdivision and thusly freeing up the drums to be more creative, I think of one song:

There’s not a lot to these lyrics, but damn they get a lot out of them. Actually the hook “you got me runnin’ like a rabid animal like a dog” probably does the least for me. Comparing people to animals isn’t totally my lyrical cup of tea. Conjures up like a furry thing, but maybe that says more about me. But I’m behind the sentiment it conveys and I can roll with it when you factor in how well it sings. This opening on the other hand!

Another night wasted
In my parents’ basement

So good. I love the double meaning use of wasted. Took me about 15 listens to be like, wait a second! The verse continues:

I could almost taste it
Why did I ever go back home? 

In the title track from the album, Price indicates she’s 25. We can all relate to living at our parents’ house at 25. Whether that’s because of COVID, the 2008 recession, whatever it may be. You’re back home—maybe you never left—hosting parties in the basement like you used to in high school. Everyone’s getting blasted. Somehow you’re playing spin the bottle with a 40, and it’s just like why am I even so into this barista towny with a man bun?

You’re a little too old for basement parties, you’re a little too old to be hoping your friends drunkenly force you and local cutie into 7 minutes in heaven—my interpretation of the “how will I ever find you in the darkness” line. And the whole thing just kinda sucks.

But you know, you’re also still young. You got a job interview on Friday. These are the feelings I get from the instrumental track. I know the chorus expresses this character has “no fight.” But when I listen to “Rabid Animal” I hear fight. It’s a total jam oozing with swag. So you just turn it up, roll the windows down, groove, and just pray soon you won’t be doing so in mom’s Prius.

At every turn, Lake Street Dive is becoming more sophisticated. I mean you can’t miss that they literally added a member, Akie Bermiss (keys), which intrinsically adds sophistication to the arrangements and harmonies. In the 6 years since Bad Self Portraits was released, they’ve incorporated more stylized production, longer songs with increasingly unique forms, sections, and rhythms. They’ve continued to experiment with meter. More expansive harmony. After taking a big step in all these directions with 2018’s Free Yourself Up , they just popped the lid with their new single “Making Do.”

And I’m here for it! I love it, especially the political message. But man, there’s something to the youthful beauty of Lake Street Dive and Bad Self Portraits. That period when you don’t really know what you’re doing, but it somehow allows you to do the exact right thing. This whole thing got me thinking about bands that came out of the gate super hot. Here are some insane debut albums.

  • MGMT, Oracular Spectacular

  • Arcade Fire, Funeral

  • Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn HillSHE ONLY HAS ONE ALBUM!!!!!!!!!!

  • Weezer, Weezer (Blue Album)

  • De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising

  • Norah Jones, Come Away With Me

  • The Strokes, Is This It

  • Nas, Illmatic

Holy shit. Talk about kicking down the castle doors.

Whether you’re 25 living at your parents’ house, 17 and living at your parents’ house, or a 50-year-old parent, “Rabid Animal” will get you thinking about picking up a case of Old English and hosting a basement party.

 

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