Go to School, the sophomore album by Long Island duo the Lemon Twigs, is a musical about a monkey, but there’s a twist: It’s actually about us. Like the cinephilic siblings of The Wolfpack and the precocious outcasts of “Home Movies,” the brothers in the Lemon Twigs—19-year-old Michael and 21-year-old Brian D’Addario—see the world most clearly when it’s filtered through their own charmingly warped lens. Listen to Go to School on a surface level, and you’ll get the tale of an adolescent chimp, raised by humans, who gets his dreams crushed and his heart broken before returning to nature in a symbolic blaze of freedom and destruction. Give the album your full attention, however, and you’ll hear two young musicians settling into their gifts as they challenge the rapidly expanding worldview they share.
There’s a frenzied, competitive energy to the D’Addarios’ songwriting, which cycles through melodies and moods at a hyperactive pace. Their debut album, 2016’s Do Hollywood, resembled a solid acting reel, showing glimpses of narrative without ever offering a full story: Their range was the point. They’ve been associated with revivalists like Whitney and Foxygen, but the charm of the Lemon Twigs is in the unabashed, theater-kid fun they have with their record collection, an energy that guides their work more than any particular style. It’s a whimsical take on what we categorize as “classic rock” that feels more akin to turn-of-the-millennium Elephant 6 acts—particularly Gay Parade-era of Montreal—than to the Lemon Twigs’ self-consciously serious peers on the festival circuit. They value costume changes over fancy light shows, bargain bin novelties over the Rolling Stone canon. They have five favorite Beatles songs, and all but one of them are pre-Revolver.
Following the Jonathan Rado-produced patchwork of Do Hollywood, Go to School plays like an exercise in conceptual and musical focus. The D’Addarios recorded the whole thing directly to tape in their family’s basement and enlisted both of their parents as collaborators. (Their father, songwriter and session musician Ronnie D’Addario, helped track the record; their mother, Susan Hall, voices the chimp’s mom.) The resulting album is less dynamic than Do Hollywood, but its scuzzier, live-band approach brings the Lemon Twigs’ sound closer to that of their heroes. “Queen of My School” could pass for an Alex Chilton solo trifle, while the swirling chorus of “The Student Becomes the Teacher” would be at home on an early Todd Rundgren LP. In fact, Rundgren and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens guest on the record, the former gamely assuming the role of the primate’s father. Their participation feels as much like a flex on the brothers’ part as a gesture toward authenticity: These are our peers, the D’Addarios imply, with devilish confidence. By Sam Sodomsky (Pitchfork)