What do you get when you mix a cup of '50s doo-wop, another of '60s girl-group pop, a tablespoon of Americana twang, a pinch of soul, and a sprinkling of garage grime and bake at 350 degrees? Something resembling The Sandwitches' debut album, How to Make Ambient Sadcake, which had the honor of being the first release on the San Francisco label, Turn Up. Heidi Alexander and Grace Cooper are the ladies behind the funny moniker; formerly back-up singers for another SF-based band, the Fresh & Onlys, the two had musical chemistry and decided to leave the background and take over center stage with their own act. After recruiting Roxy Brodeur from Pillars of Salt on drums (who has since been replaced by Lance Kramer from Beat Cops), they started work on their special brand of sunny, and sometimes shadowy, pop-rock.
Considering the multiple genres and musical eras the Sandwitches are playing around with, one might assume that How to Make Ambient Sadcake might sound disjointed and scattered, but this is far from true. Somehow, the ladies have managed to set a foundation of notes from past decades and build on those traditions, at once paying homage and whipping the vintage sounds into a contemporary blend of their own making.
The Sandwitches start off the sock hop with "Back to the Sea," an infectious '60s pop song that serves as an invitation to drop whatever you're doing and join the girls on a trip down memory lane and back again. "Come on, brothers and sisters, we're going back to the sea, come on!" they sing so convincingly. "Tarantula Arms" continues this propulsive spirit with drums and tales of monster transformations, but things don't really get started until "Fire," a super fun sing-along that drips with doo-wop. "You have consumed me, too too much, you are too much," they harmonize over the smacking of hand claps.
The sun comes out for "Relax at the Beach," which features the girls granting permission to do what Californians do best, unwinding with sand and surf. And "Marry Me," a rock song full of electric guitar, tells the story of a moody man named Joe, who can't decide if he would rather ignore his girl or marry her. The Sandwitches really step up their songwriting on this one, conjuring one great image after another (from "he's got smoke in his hands and teeth" to "he kissed me one night after he'd been in a fist fight, shirt in a twist and blood on his lips").
"Kiss Your Feet" also takes on love. But, even with a line like "I'm so happy I could kiss your feet," there's something sinister lurking, revealed a bit when the girls plead with their lovers to "take my life from me." Director Joey Izzo does a brilliant job of picking up on this dark side and creating a memorable music video that depicts a clown-faced murderer luring young girls from their Ouija board to their deaths. Check the horror below:
Despite all of its merits, How to Make Ambient Sadcake has only received a limited amount of attention (gorilla vs. bear heralded it as "the best album of the year that no one seems to be talking about"). This might be distressing news, if it wasn't so obvious that the Sandwitches are just getting started. For now, they're our little secret, a sound we can revel in before it starts infecting the speakers and headphones of everyone else. Enjoy the exclusivity while you can.