It's fitting that Yellow Fever's self-titled debut is on the Vivian Girls' Wide World Records. Like the Vivian Girls, Yellow Fever are so rudimentary and primitive that they could almost be considered naive art. The Austin duo is comprised of singer/guitarist Jennifer Moore and drummer Adam Jones, although they are occasionally rounded out live by an additional guitarist or keyboardist. They forgo the Vivian Girls punk fuzz, and instead concentrate on stripped down indie pop. Jones' simplistic drumming would make Meg White proud, and Moore keeps her guitar work to basic chords. The end result sounds like a slightly more capable and infinitely less snotty Stains, the fake band featured in the cult classic Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.
Album opener "Rat Catcher" sounds like 90s K Records, and "Cutest Boy" steals its melody from a children's song. "The cutest boy I ever saw/was drinking cider through a straw," sings Moore, and you begin to fear that you are in for a tweefest. Cutesy-pie lyrics, unaspirational musicianship, it's enough to make you want to go crafting and write a zine about your cat. Which is great if you love twee, but I've always been irritated by the gratingly childlike posturing of the genre. To me, a bunch of young adults pretending to be in elementary school seems escapist and kind of pathetic.
Thankfully, Yellow Fever are not twee. They certainly flirt with twee-ness, but they never dive full in, owing to their two main strengths: Moore's voice, and their songwriting. Moore has a pretty voice that sounds like an American Leticia Sadler of Stereolab fame. She makes lyrics like "why won't you recognize how psychedelic I am?" palatable. Her voice is paired with good songwriting and strong melodies: Yellow Fever may be minimalist, but they are catchy as hell. There is a strong sixties garage vibe to Yellow Fever, albeit filtered through 90s Northwest indie pop. While their straightforward garage jams are fun, songs like "Alice," "Hell Fire," and "Culver City" point to a fuller, more complex sound that could and should be the future of the band. These songs show a maturity that proves that there is much more to Yellow Fever than three chords and jokey lyrics.
Yellow Fever may not offer virtuosity or dense layers of production, but they do offer some catchy tunes and a sense of light, breezy fun. Like the White Stripes, they use their minimalism as a challenge, a constructed constraint within which they create great pop songs. Fans of the Vivian Girls, Mecca Normal, and 90s Northwestern indie pop will definitely want to catch this fever.