Monday, March 13, 2006

The High Strung

Part of what I like about the '70s in rock is that there's this great sense of future and purpose in the music of bands like Big Star and Mott The Hoople. Even at the downturns, even when the girls are September, even when hangin' out is a chore, there's this sense of motion forward. Perhaps it's because there's such longing, and any longing you have has to be connected with a future, possible or impossible. But how can All The Young Dudes promise anything other than a better future?

There's enough of a connection between The High Strung and '70s power pop that when I first started listening to the album Moxie Bravo, I thought of all of the places that I loved '70s rock, the places where it fit and comforted. And I kept thinking of places like the long drive down Washtenaw, out of Ypsi, back to Ann Arbor, where at night it's an endless spread of chrome dealerships under halogen, where everything is blue-lit and harsh. I think back to working in restaurants, and turning on the classic rock radio as I drove home, and how it was always a call to get the hell out.

What makes this work is the immaculate sense of flourish over fundamentally good structures— the drum roll that runs alongside the verses in "Seems it's One Thing" gives singer Josh Malerman the room to create a long-suffering character without feeling like you're suffering through a message set to music. Their predecessors in power pop should be known for this too, especially one that gets too much ink for the wrong reasons. Malerman can hit an alto that's not too far away from Jack White's, and Jack should probably be better known for his fantastic pop chops than his blues vamping, but we'll leave that aside. (We'll also leave aside how much of a kiss of death it can be here in Southeastern Michigan to invoke White in any comparison). Still, for the traditional X-meets-Y of rock reviews, you could do worse than "Pop Jack White" and "Big Star."

This isn't to discount the rest of the band. Malerman's a major factor, but one of the High Strung's strengths is their economy. In this post-Arcade Fire world of indie rock, I see bands like the Descent of the Holy Ghost Church and Canada (on the indie rock tip, Coke Dick Motorcycle Awesome on the pop metal tip) with enough members to staff a White Castle up on stage, but without the ability to write a single decent melody line for any of them. There's this belief that by mass of numbers, somehow an interesting song can be clumped together out of shifting dynamics. Instead, the High Strung are a trio, and a robust trio at that. Derek Berk's drumming is a high point of "Seems It's One Thing," with thunderous rolls like hilly giants falling down a flight of stairs. And having a bassist in Chad Stocker who's able to both play unobtrusive rhythm and provide a hook as thick as Rocky's forearm. Mallerman trust the rhythm section enough to give them the space to make a great song.

And more than anything, the virtue of Moxie Bravo is that it's infectious. I couldn't get to sleep last night because I had "A Real Mealticket" stuck in my head. It was three, maybe four in the morning before I finally dozed off. With great power pop comes great responsibility?

Anyway, there are three mp3s up on their site, the aforementioned mealticket, "N over C," a glammy single that's about the middle of their album quality wise, and "Truce," which is really about as influence-laden as they get. It's vaguely a shame that they're not putting some of my favorites up for free (like "Deck The Boy" which is going on every mixtape I make for the next year or so), but in contrast to my general demeanor, I'd like you to buy the goddamned album, you yobbos.

Anyway, I know that I get about 12 readers a day. About half of those should be random googlers who I frustrate by taking songs down even as I remain the top google hit. The rest of you? Well, take a listen. I really like this band. Would it kill you to comment?

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