A covers album from a South Florida combo is hardly breaking news, considering that this a locale where well-crafted original music is a rare commodity. But when you're talking about the sophomore set from the Postmarks, a group widely hailed for purveying a distinctive style, it's initially surprising that, two years after introducing themselves to the world, they'd already fall back on a covers album.
The band's eponymous debut album proved the Postmarks were pop pundits with a legitimate claim on insight and intelligence. Released in early 2007, it exuded a willowy, seductive sound that was essentially out of sync with the frenzy of the local tempo, musical and otherwise. Glossy-magazine writers lauded the album and immediately signaled the Postmarks as a band to watch, winning instant comparisons to similarly soothing bands like Belle & Sebastian, the Cocteau Twins, and Lush.
Hell, in late 2005 — a full year before the release of their debut disc — this newspaper announced that the Postmarks had all of the skills to win over audiences and music critics around the country, and sure enough, it turned out to be true.
But when it comes to the band's follow-up, the aptly titled By-the-Numbers, released two weeks ago, the trio opted to adapt its template to other people's songs. The titles follow a numerical progression and include a mix of indelible classics — the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice," Bowie's "Five Years," Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" — and lesser-known picks from the Cure, Blondie, the Ramones, and Ride. The result is a hazy tapestry, one that draws on the hushed vocals of alluring singer Tim Yehezkely — a girl who bears a boy's name — and the ethereal ambiance created by her bandmates, Jonathan Wilkins and Christopher Moll, both of whom handle most of the instrumentation.
Maintaining a characteristic lowered gaze, the material is informed by a cosmic drift so surreal, even the more familiar songs become all but unrecognizable.
Band members freely admit that a covers album could be considered an unlikely move this early in their career, but they insist it merely affirms their individual branding.
"It's about blazing our own trail and not following some sort of music-industry pattern," Wilkins suggests. "I think those established trade routes have fallen under attack, and we need to take evasive action."
The album was supposed to be a kind of water-treading interlude — "simply a way of keeping our name in the press and in the consciousness of the listeners while we spent more time recording the proper follow-up."
But they surprised themselves. "Because of the time crunch in recording the covers, they sound immediate and contain an energy that isn't on the debut," Wilkins says.
As befits the band's meticulous arrangements, the song selection process was equally intense. "Each month, we drew up a list of what options were available," Moll explains. "It would have to have a number in the title. It would have to be an artist who we appreciated. Our arrangements would have to work within a grander tapestry in that once you listened to all of the tracks from one to 12, it felt like a proper album."
Although the set list ultimately proves cohesive, the members' varied backgrounds might signal otherwise. Moll moved with his father to South Florida from New York in 1989, spending time in the shoegazing indie pop band 23 in the early '90s before segueing into dual duty with See Venus and Timewellspent at the beginning of the millennium. Wilkins, who was born in Miami and spent a brief time in San Francisco, was introduced to Moll by a friend who had been told that See Venus was in need of a drummer. The two clicked immediately.
Following the demise of See Venus, Wilkins began a stint as a DJ at Dada in Delray Beach, where regular open-mic nights were part of the draw. It was on one such occasion that Yehezkely, a raven-haired native of Tel Aviv, Israel, who had arrived in Florida via Connecticut, took her turn at the microphone and changed his life. Her vocals seemed to emit an elusive quality that reflected both a quiet reserve and an innate vulnerability, and the crowd was instantly mesmerized.
"I never learned to sing; I just did it," Yehezkely says now. "I never considered myself a singer. I still don't... Sometimes I'm shy, and sometimes I'm not. It depends on the crowd. But I'm definitely more comfortable as a frontperson now. In the beginning, I wanted to crawl under a rock, but now I don't mind."
Although Yehezkely was short on singing experience, the three decided to join forces, choosing the name the Postmarks to reference a sense of timeless communication.
They found a common bond in their admiration for cinematic soundtracks, Brazilian jazz, and a vague sort of '60s sensuality. Moll himself cites Cal Tjader, Stan Getz, Patsy Cline, Perry Como, War, Santana, the Beatles, Supertramp, Kiss, and Chic as among his steering currents. "It's all over the place," he allows. "It's all in there, stirred into a delicious concoction that pours out anytime I attempt to make music."