What does it say about the current scene when the standard full rock band of two guitars, bass, and drums can seem novel? Where to place an authentic rock-and-roll band in the evolving spectrum of blogs, buzz bands, and backing tracks? Maybe in that regard, Mean Creek — this year's Best Local Act — present a sort of inverse hook: there is no kitsch, no troubled backstory, no blippy corrosion or lo-fi strategy. Only a big wave of unrelenting rock-and-roll sound that bespeaks the band's desire to fight the ephemeral, to set themselves up for the long haul in the land of the fleeting.
This Saturday at Great Scott, the Boston four-piece will celebrate their latest creation: a two-song, seven-inch-vinyl release from producer John Agnello (who's worked with the Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and a laundry list of other noteworthy bands). Vinyl — old-school durability — is symptomatic of how the band see themselves in the long term, and that vision is also evident in their past, both together and separately. Drummer Mikey Holland and bassist Erik Wormwood were members of Tulsa before moving to Mean Creek; singers Chris Keene and Aurore Ounjian played together as the quasi-folk duo Chris & Aurore for several years. Before Wormwood and Holland joined, almost two years ago, Mean Creek mostly employed a revolving backing band of friends and musicians.
"This is the final incarnation of the band," says Holland. "We're going to release 10 records whether or not anyone gives a shit."
Mean Creek flood small rooms with a sound large enough to drown stadiums: monumental, rolling guitars, a driving, subterranean rhythm section, and a visceral impact like a shot to the gut. Sometimes it's earnest Americana with jangly, Rolling Stones rhythms and anthemic, neck-bending Neil Young solos, as in "The Sky (Or the Underground)." Sometimes it's up-tempo alt-country, as in the sinuous bass bump and singsongy, interwoven melodies from Keene and Ounjian on "It's Good To Be Back Again."
"I get depressed because I don't hear enough bands writing good solid songs with good melodies," says Keene. "That sort of went out in the '90s. It's not cool anymore just to write good songs."
That earnestness — bordering on pretentiousness — is another Mean Creek hallmark. They follow a classic rule: write what you know. And they know rock.
"We're not indie enough for people who love indie," says Keene. "We're also not mainstream enough for a pop audience. And that's fine. At the same time. we hope it doesn't take 10 years for someone to like our band."
Their latest release, The Sky (Or the Underground) (Old Flame), is warm in its grandeur, with songs unfolding like sun-washed plains, but cynical in its lyrical exposition, with familiar social critiques. In "Strange Man," a slow-burning, sparkly ballad, Keene sings, "You don't want anything you need/You don't need anything you want." But the album falls just short of the ADD infectiousness required of the Internet age. And though that's not an outright problem, it could be a roadblock.