The Upshot: Richly melodic Midwest power pop—leavened by classic weirdo alt-rock—is alive and well in this Columbus band’s hands.
BY FRED MILLS
A recent, well-reasoned/researched article published at Bandcamp Daily, “The New Face of Power Pop,” rounded up a dozen or so up-and-comers on the contemporary power pop scene, rightly tracing the bands’ aesthetic and stylistic connections to vintage p-p outfits from the ‘70s (Badfinger, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Big Star) as well as those that populated the ‘80s and early ‘90s revivals. Allow me to nominate a potential list-topper for the inevitable TNFOPP Part 2: Columbus, Ohio, quartet Earwig, whose new platter, Pause for the Jets, has of lately bum-rushed yours truly’s office playbox to the point that I’ve fallen so behind in my listening duties that I may have to call in sick at work just to catch up next week.
Now, let me quickly dispel any “newcomer” or “upstart” notions up front: Earwig has been operative in some form or fashion since the early ‘90s. You can hear those alt-rock roots in a number of these songs, like the delightfully shouty “Lover’s Chords” and the noisy, moody, synth-strafed, and just plain weird “Bring Yrself 2 Me,” which aside from the era-nodding title tipoff, brings to mind the late, great Grifters (with maybe a dollop of Guided by Voices), minus the lo-fi trappings. The band—frontman/guitarist Lizard McGee, Costa Hondroulis (whose role is described as “Bass Guitar God, Pound of Flesh, Vocals”), Nicholas Nocera (“Drum Kit Throttler, screen printer and main squeeze”), James McGee-Moore (“B.Vox, Japanese translation and very vocal second opinion”), George Hondroulis (“Utility player, Little brother, Navigator”)—has a number of records under its belt, including 2010’s well regarded Gibson Under Mountain, and along the way there have been numerous lineup changes. Whatever power bars the members have been munching on lately, however, have clearly had the desired effect, because this is one of the most accomplished indie recordings you’re likely to hear all year.
Right from the get-go, with opening track “Wisdom Teeth,” all fuzzy-riffy anthemism and buoyant vocals, you sense they’re onto something special. Later, in standout track “Silverheels,” they gradually move from a strummy, minimalist motif into a pulse-quickening thrum that ultimately builds to a huge crashing climax (plus the requisite false ending) that fairly dares you not to jump out of your chair—or pull over to the side of the road, take your pick; did I mention this is exquisite driving music?—and start pumping your fists like you’re front and center at the local arena. The lyrics are outstanding and evocative as well:
I dream of Mona Lisa when I’m lying in my bed
These demons come and take me home to you instead
You are the seraphim, the echo and the fire
You are the truth and I am a liar
Elsewhere there’s the exquisite guy-gal harmonies of “Wasted on You,” set against big-ass Cheap Trick dynamics, and lengthy dark ballad “All My Sins Are Blotted Out,” a study in contrasts for the band, which is able to chart a multiplicity of modalities across the course of the album, and sometimes within a single song. And closing track “Badr Moon” is yet another changeup, a study in textures with the kind of melody destined to stick with you long after the record has spun. It also offers a lyrical tableaux from vocalist McGee that’s exquisite in its straightforward simplicity:
You are a spell
so far away
When the moon goes to bed she sleeps in your eyes
I am lost / in your magic world
destiny sleeps in my veins
your destiny crawls in my veins
Consumer Note: The digital version of the album is a 12-songer (you can check it out at Bandcamp, natch), but the vinyl edition is a real treat for us collectors: the LP contains 9 songs, with the additional 3 included on a 7” EP featuring alternate sleeve art to the LP. Of that trio of tracks, “High Wasps” is a jaw-dropping study in heaviosity, a brief (1 ½ mins) hard rock instro that’d be perfect for soundtracking a chase scene in some action flick.
DOWNLOAD: “Silverheels,” “Wisdom Teeth,” “Wasted On You,” “Badr Moon”