On first listen, Chapel Hill quartet Tripp will sound like radio-ready bar rock, its big guitar solos and tight, monolithic rhythm section darting around or driving behind hooks preened for popular play. For the most part, the impression holds: At his best, frontman Alex Wilkins writes songs that either feel like energetic anthems best enjoyed in a convertible with the top down and the volume knob yanked or earnest ballads set to serve for some prime time drama's emotional comedown. His infatuations proffer magnetic infatuations of their own, and his backing band—guitarist Hugh Swaso, drummer Paul Fisher and bassist Alex Van Gils—pushes those hooks deep with a crisp rock flair.
But things are never that simple, and Tripp doesn't reduce so easily to the status of local modern-rock bauble. Wilkins blurs the edges as a lyricist, realizing that breakups rarely come clean and happiness rarely comes easy. Likewise, as a unit, Tripp often reconfigures or warps the templates of its closest sonic kin. Such welcome ambiguities flash right out of the gate: Instead of playing the rhythm straight on "Draw a Line," Fisher quakes beneath the first verse with bombastic, nearly surf-rock rolls. It sounds as nervous as it does fresh, giving guitar rock a mean shakedown and offering Wilkins the perfect lyrical stratum for his enjoyable indecision. He's obsessed with a girl, but she's bad for him. He says he's ending it, but—beneath that familiar, everyguy tone—he sounds like he's having too much fun to be believed.
Such conflicting sentiments invade nearly every song, from the band's heaviest moment ("Everything in One" prepares Superchunk for the masses but interestingly hands the melody to the bass) to its lightest (late-album creeper "Goodbye" stares slowly, quietly and empathetically at a friend who falls apart upon remembering an old love). Tripp wraps those dualisms into one, too, offering an emotionally complex slow-build on "Finally Comes Apart" and tying alt.country grit to sweet Southern jangle on "Inside Out." Tripp's songs, then, reflect the band perfectly. Though they are identifiably of a type, they are—thankfully—not bound by it.
Tripp's Alex Wilkins and Hugh Swaso play a duo show at East End Martini Bar Thursday, May 22. The full band plays Friday, May 23, at 9 p.m. at He's Not Here and again at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at Broad Street Cafe. The show is a benefit for Carolina Outreach.