In 2016, much of new music discovery has been ceded to algorithms and paid playlist compilers on streaming services. These bots and humans don't push their own taste as much as anticipate yours, whatever that might be. Their aim is aided by scores of new bands just waiting to be recommended by way of if-you-like-X, so much new music that sounds like so much old music. Three new records released this summer by rock bands with Triangle roots illustrate that weird sensation of searching for something new and familiar.
On Sudden Comfort, Drag Sounds channels the punk poets of 1970s New York, primarily Television's Tom Verlaine and his cast-off bandmate, Richard Hell. The Carolina-via-Baltimore guys in Drag Sounds, with their yelped vocal affect and twining, elegantly frayed guitar lines, really do sound like CBGB's Class of '76. It's less lofty, and you suspect they might not be carrying dog-eared Rimbaud paperbacks. Yet even without grand lyrical ambition, a song like "Aww Night Long" successfully captures the feeling of some humid night when you got so stoned that you almost certainly became profound: "Then it moves, then it's gone, then it keeps on going on." Totally, dude.
In stray spots, Drag Sounds gets a bit more current. Killer track "Messy Life" has the sunburned, four-beers-in enthusiasm of Bob Nastanovich woo-hooing from stage left at a Pavement show. But Drag Sounds so far lacks the strong point of view that might let it transcend its influences. Parquet Courts has mined this sort of artfully disheveled vibe lately too, but with an itchy, overstimulated quality that at least nods to modernity. Sudden Comfort is too well-worn to suggest that kind of agitation, let alone actual danger. The record instead feels casual and cozy, the relaxing dash of seediness provided by a dim dive bar on an otherwise well-lit block. It's easy inessentiality is weirdly charming, in spite of that. Listening to this stuff and coming away bummed would be an odd outcome.
More likely to sour your mood is Jenny Besetzt who, as it turns out, is a masculine, brooding alt-rock band and not the female singer-songwriter the name might suggest. Tender Madness, the band's second record, offers up a slightly different time and place that's no less recognizable, homing in on mid- to late-eighties Britain. John Wollaber's voice booms from a reverb cave to an almost comically grave effect, a fourth-generation shade of singers like Echo & the Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch and U2's Bono. Synth swells and crisp drums are more prominent than shoegaze guitars.
A refined ambient track is welcome after a few end-of-the-world ballads, and warmer tones creep in as the record progresses. The slight variations fall in a compact, tasteful range, but this isn't necessarily a fatal flaw. The primary job of effective art doesn't have to be to shock or surprise; music isn't instantly invalidated when it reminds you of something else. Held to a higher bar, no, you might not need another album that sounds like this in your life. That's not to suggest that the musicians who made Tender Madness didn't need to make it. It conveys conviction, just not inspiration.
Funny though, how a well-placed hook can trounce a carefully evoked tone. The Everymen are a New Jersey band with a New Jersey sound who happen to have partially relocated to Chapel Hill. On its third record, These Mad Dogs Need Heroes, the band is instantly identifiable as a bar band, but what a relief to say it's not a historically specific one. The Everymen's songs aren't time machines that open up into Max's Kansas City in New York 1971 or Eric's Club in Liverpool 1986.
The "bar band" description still feels like an unfair epithet that suggests lowered standards and creative limits, just a shade less dismissive than "wedding band." Think about what you might find in both of those situations: friends, loved ones, and a few randos dancing to music that makes them feel good. They're drinking, talking, eating, carrying on, and making out if all goes well. The music that makes you feel that way is still relatively rare and precious.
These Mad Dogs Need Heroes bursts with energy, sax wails, guitar riffs, audible sweat. They use pop/rock elements that are every bit as common as the other bands mentioned. On "No One Seems to Matter to Me," singer Mike V. wails like a soused dude really leaning into some Elvis Costello karaoke. Crucially, he makes it sound like a pretty cool time as opposed to a studiously hip stance. The most compelling thing about The Everymen is that they seem very in the moment, this one, now. They turf out sometimes, shooting for universal and crashing on trite. A tongue planted in cheek can't redeem lines like "Best watch your back/I'm a heart attack/Come and taste the disgrace," but the dumb bits feel like a reasonable surcharge for the immediacy. They've heard all the same records you have, but there's nowhere else they'd rather be.
This article appeared in print with the headline "It Might Get Loud"