Where other members of New York’s turn-of-the-century new wave resurgence (the Rapture, !!!, Interpol) zero in on and review aspects of one or two beloved ’80s bands, My Favorite’s sound is a crazy-quilt of elements from various sources. Love at Absolute Zero might best be described as Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens jamming with Rio-era Duran Duran at a party for Dale Bozzio. Songwriter Michael Grace Jr.’s lyrics are heavily influenced by Morrissey and laced with dry wit; what gives the band its identity apart from its forbears, are the vocals he and keyboardist Andrea Vaughn provide. While My Favorite covers a wide swath, from the Sundays sound-alike “17 Berlin” to the Missing Persons in Jamaica vibe of “Party Crashers” and the heavily medicated Haircut 100-ness of “Between Cafes,” for all the mood swings, it always sounds like the same band. Love at Absolute Zero is an excellent debut, nostalgic but forward-looking at the same time.
Known as the Joan of Arc tapes, the three four-song EPs that followed were loosely inspired by the life of the maid of Orleans. Biographical details don’t really figure in the lyrics — the saint’s only appearance is as a teenager longing to see Paris. Instead, her life serves as a template for examinations of youthful dreams and inspiration and the inevitable loss of both. From James Dean bleeding to death on the highway to young lovers out for a morning stroll in Hiroshima, the three discs (collected in their entirety, along with the otherwise unissued Famous When Dead EP, on the two disc The Happiest Days of Our Lives) chronicle the death of hope and innocence for a large cast of young people. As My Favorite continues to mix and match influences ranging from New Order to the Smiths to the Cocteau Twins, “L=P” (from Joan of Arc Awaiting Trial) sounds like a more piano-driven Go-Betweens. A Cult of One concludes with “John Dark (A Simulation)” which resembles one of those quiet piano-with-muted-synth-drones Ultravox used to end albums. (The track was slightly reconfigured as “John Dark (Goodnight Major Tom)” for The Happiest Days of Our Lives.) The Kids Are All Wrong features “Burning Hearts,” which echoes OMD and is about two people on the receiving end of the Enola Gay’s mission, and the equally somber “The Lesser Saints.” The EPs are full of solid songs, but it’s Joan of Arc Awaiting Trial‘s “Homeless Club Kids” that is My Favorite’s masterpiece. A leisurely but insistent disco beat supports the song’s gorgeous, swelling keyboard line, and Vaughn turns in her best vocal performance to date on the melancholy tale of a lonely night at the club. “The ghosts of dead teenagers sing to me while I am dancing … they’ll be sad and young forever.” That sums up all the themes of the Joan of Arc tapes in one line. The second disc of The Happiest Days of Our Lives presents remixes by the likes of Soviet, Future Bible Heroes and Flowchart.