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Truth is, first time I heard this, I couldn’t wrap my head around it – every time a song or riff caught my ear, another set of sounds lost it. Next day, with a really bad migraine, I ended up going back to bed, with Social Studies playing in the next room. Turned out this was a good way to experience this more-moody-than-gothic string of stories rarely hinting at happy endings. It could also work for a rainy and/or overcast day when you’re alternating housecleaning, tea drinking, and staring out the window in contemplation.

If Wind Up Wooden Heart were more cohesive, Natalie Rogovin’s fruit-bright chirp might be leading the SS troops through the world’s first Casio recorder “rock opera.” But the album doesn’t maintain enough linearity for that distinction. Anyway, I think “rock opera” is a strange concept: Drawn-out melodrama rarely manages to arouse me in a rock sorta way (Queen and Sparks have provided two exceptions).

Social Studies “Time Bandit” from Social Studies on Vimeo.

But WUWH does have some oomph, mostly connected with good songwriting, and Natalie’s engaging voice. One of the highlights, “Charioteers,” made me imagine the HBO series Rome: In my fantasy, Social Studies would break out with periodic song-and-dance segments. Hey, it would make Rome more fun, anyway. Another sweet spot appears with “Drag a Rake,” which could be separated at birth from one of Coco Rosie’s less polished, trance-y cuts. “Pile of Words” and “The Good Book” sport compelling, sometimes pretty sounds that might benefit from less Casio at the helm. “Trapdoor Spider” sounds like someone listened to a lot of Genesis – with maybe some Helium/Mary Timony, resulting in one of the album’s only instances of rocking, electric guitar-driven dynamics. Bursting open with crafty percussion, melancholic vocals and Casio drones, “Holler Boys” is the star, and most recommended download. At moments recalling The Cardigans, it kinda makes me want to see what SS does after this. The best case scenario would have the group cutting World Civ. to jam on what it’s learned from this debut.

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