Koory, Looloosh and Obaash met and formed the way of young rock bands since time immemorial: Hanging out at a local park as teenagers, among skaters and punk rockers, they bonded over their mutual tastes and began playing together. It’s a pretty standard, unremarkable story — except it took place in Iran, where, as Koory puts it, “you can find instruments, but the problem is that you’re probably going to get the shittiest ones, at triple the price,” and where the legality of pop music is, he says, similar to that of marijuana: You can buy the supplies, but don’t get caught fooling with the substance. In Brooklyn, where Yellow Dogs currently reside, forming a post-punk band with your friends is about as remarkable an activity as ordering Thai food. In Tehran, it was like more like a covert operation. And, lo and behold, the music they produced, the four-song EP Upper Class Complexity, crackles with more life, wit, tension and imagination than most of their peers. Maybe there’s something to be said for having to work for it.
The sound of Upper Class Complexity feels a little out-of-step with the current Brooklyn-scene moment, but in the best possible way: While more bands are chasing hazy good vibes and New Zealand-inspired indie jangle (Real Estate‘s self-titled appears to be slowly morphing into some kids’ Is This It?), Yellow Dogs’ music harks back to a moment when every band had a busily riding hi-hat, rhythmic stabs of guitar, and a head full of frayed nerves: the brittle post-punk moment of circa-2003. Yellow Dogs songs are fiendish, caffeinated little puzzles of warily circling guitar and keyboards, each element feeling close and cramped, like riders stuck in a stalled elevator.
With their just-so vintage keyboard sounds, the echo-laden recording atmosphere, and the herky-jerk mid-song breakdowns, these songs seem to spring from years’ worth of close study of post-punk deep catalog. Imagine our surprise, then, when the members confessed to not hearing most of these touchstones until after they had found their sound: apart from Joy Division and the Clash, they learned at the feet of those who worshiped the sound with the same reverence they did: Rancid, in other words, was a big influence. But we can’t detect a single hint of attenuation in the resulting music. “The City,” which closes the EP, is a sneering, evil two-chord vamp that just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller parts, until finally it’s nothing more than a spidery guitar line crawling up your backbone. The song could easily go on for nine minutes and never peter out — live, we hear, it sometimes does — but they cut it off, sharp and still sparking, before it hits five minutes: one last expertly deployed cold-water bucket to the face. It only proves that you don’t always need first-hand experience with the source to catch the spirit.