OK, so there is some humour, but it’s subtle and sardonic, and although they are essentially radio-friendly, we get plenty of punked-up riffs and jump-around choruses, as well as more than a passing flirtation with the more mature laid-back sound of Americana. It all makes for a pleasantly varied album of surprisingly high quality from the South Carolina based three piece.
‘Opener Loser Denial’ is a downbeat slice of pop rock with a rousing punky finale that reminds me of Desaparecidos. In fact, Nathan Jack Merli’s voice bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Conor Oberst. However, being only a three piece means the bassist gets quite a high profile and he certainly earns his stripes, especially on the mid tempo ‘Melt’ and the (pop) rocking ‘Elsewhere’, which is blessed with a number of time changes and dips its fingers into a number of musical pies, there’s even a hint of The Cure in the driving bass line of the closing section.
The band’s laid-back style is very evident on ‘Alison’, the hazy ‘Mom Jeans’ and the fantastic ‘What It’s Like’ – what a great song, so mature for such a young band. It’s not all lazy sun-soaked songs of love and heartache though; they also know how to rock it up, like on the hardcore chorus of the grungy ‘Virgin’ and the jarring guitar lines of ‘Jake Miller’s Houseparty’.
As I said, this is a wonderfully surprising album stacked with a rich variety of sounds ranging from low-fi melancholy to dirty punk rock. There’s even a 6 minute power ballad called ‘Happy’, of the kind Dinosaur Jr might write, and it never gets indulgent; it’s great to listen to a band that use their talent to showcase great songs rather than use their songs to showcase their talents. They do leave their influences a little too close to the surface at times though, as ‘Santa Fe’ with its acoustic clap-along road trip vibe is essentially ‘Friday I’m in Love’ in disguise, but what the hell, it’s a nice track.
All told, this is an accomplished debut from HeyRocco; there’s a variety of textures to their sound and the air of nostalgia adds something pleasantly familiar to the mix. The songs are intelligently crafted and though their influences are plain to see, it’s great to hear a band who can flirt with a number of styles but still maintain their own sound, as well as capture an elusive feeling that seems to pick you up and carry you back to the bittersweet teenage years; good stuff! It will be very interesting to see what they do next.
‘Teenage Movie Soundtrack’ by HeyRocco is out on now via Vital Music Group.
Words by Edward Layland (@EdwardLayland)