When rock duo Pets recorded their first album Pick Up Your Feet (2006), Derek Fieth and Allison Jones came by their signature sound by playing guitars in unison while letting a drum machine fill in the beats. Despite their minimalist approach, Pets managed to create a soundscape of Spectorian proportions with the addition of keyboards and electronic effects. “Pushy” gets things off to a lively start with Derek mumbling about his girl’s aggressive nature while Allison eggs him on by screaming the album’s title over and over. And from that point on, the production work by the band and Doug Godsey is damn near insane! A consistent barrage of noises bounce around and sweep through like a monstrous mosquito while other moments are accented with shimmering echoes. As a vocalist, Allison is a force to be reckoned with, exploding with “SET TO ATTACK!” to kick off the album’s second track “Meatbee” (which, not coincidentally, is another name for the hostile yellow jacket wasp). On tunes like “Backseat,” “Coldhouse,” and “Be My Friend,” she yelps and chants and often sounds as though she’s on the verge of hysteria. Derek, on the other hand, has a much more laid-back demeanor on songs like “Pretty” and “Give You a Ride.” And when the two engage in a round of call-and-response, there’s something undeniably sexy about the way they play off each other. I have to admit the two tracks in the middle that don’t feature a lead vocal by either member of the band aren’t as engaging to me as the ones before and after, but they still feel as though they belong thanks to the clever segueways and sequencing. The focus is clearly on sound dynamics and how this music makes you feel rather than how it makes you think. Sex, dancing, and generally having a good time with the one you love is primarily what matters here, and I can state from firsthand experience that they’ve succeeded admirably in inspiring that credo. The album closes with a near-instrumental track during which Derek and Allison’s voices faintly rise up in the distance as it progresses. It’s a nicely subdued ending for a record that can really get your heart pumping and feet moving.
Quite frankly, I was a bit confused the first time I listened to the follow-up album, Ready the Rifles (2010). Pick Up Your Feet split the vocal duties evenly between Pets’ two members, but Ready the Rifles is basically Derek’s moment in the spotlight with Allison literally in the backseat. She has only one lead here on “Switchblade” and just provides background and harmony vocals on some of the other tracks. Since Allison injected a welcome dose of adrenalin to many of the first album’s songs, I wasn’t quite prepared for her relative absence the second time around. Another unexpected development involves the general sound of the recording, which is considerably more relaxed and conventional compared to Pets’ first outing. (Also different: Ira Skinner adds a more human touch on the drums and serves as an unofficial third member.) Having spent more time with Ready the Rifles and allowing my initial expectations to gradually fade away, I can now assess it on its own merits. What this album lacks in visceral impact, it makes up for with simple and engaging pop songs that’ll remind you of The Vaselines (“Lost in There”) and The Jesus and Mary Chain, who serve as ground zero for the majority of Derek’s more melodic material. Stripping away most of the sonic jewelry has allowed for a more streamlined sound that lets the hooks dominate more readily. As with Pick Up Your Feet, the lyrics here are pretty basic and are mostly present to hang the infectious rhythms on. The following lines from “Clever is Whatever” seem to suggest that physical satisfaction is still a priority: “The last thing I’m trying to do is to seem smart to you / The furthest thing from my mind is what goes on inside your brain.” But with persistent references to guns (naturally) and breaking hearts, there seems to be more going on below the surface for this second go-around. And when Allison does chime in from time to time, there’ll be no doubting that this is a Pets album. Granted, it’ll have quite a few older fans like myself scratching their heads during its maiden voyage, but stick with it and I think it’ll begin to shine as a low-key gem over time.
Bonus Fun Fact – Pets have been nominated for SAMMIE Awards in no less than five different categories in just as many years: Electronic, Rock, Pop, Indie, and Post-Punk. Stay tuned to see how they’ll be classified in the near future!
You can find Pets’ Pick Up Your Feet for sale here.