POPPING OUT OF THE SPEAKERS The Sophomore Beat.
If you thought the Sophomore Beat's Hi, Technology was a sneering bundle of sarcasm, wait till you get a load of their new EP, the four-song Party Like a Lobster. The band's radio rock is plenty familiar, a rousing and forward-leaning bundle of emo vocals and pulsing guitars, but their sentiment is terrifically contrary to pop's love-song foundation.
"I'm surprised you haven't learned/To stay as far the fuck away from where I'm gonna be."
That's from the opening "Believe," where frontman Daniel James takes much of the self-examination from the last album — the self-loathing, really — and turns it outward: "believe that you're as sad as I think you are." Producer Jonathan Wyman helps them find a great guitar tone in the bridge, then fuzzes it completely out as it progresses and is joined by "oooh-oooh" gang vocals.
James's vocals are progressing as well, deepening from a trumpet's blare to a trombone's bleat. He even goes full-on breathy for the semi-soft touch of "Little Sister," a sentimental nod to the bond siblings can develop through duping the folks (as someone with a little sister, I can attest to the song's accuracy). Really, all the song needs is a female vocalist to rock the second verse where the sister responds: "Come on, older brother/Why so sad and always blue?"
James does self-aware quite well. He even knocks through the fourth wall in the fairly silly "Str8 3dge 4 Now," where he tells us what "this song's about" and invites us to watch him fall apart: "kick me out on my ass/Get it over with." There's one of those fall-away transitions here, and some handclaps and gang vocals, too, memes the Sophomore Beat use often, but it's true they make an effort in just about every song to give you something to think about in their song construction.
In the closing "King of the Caste," they put their ability to match rhythm guitars on display, chiming high on the one hand and driving low-end on the other. Remember when people talked about slackers? James would fit right in: "You said something about something/I wasn't listening." The bridge here is particularly good, with a subtle organ part that they charge out of with a blast of energy.
There's a tendency to think these radio rock songs are easy to write, are basically color-by-numbers, but when you hear them done well, and made interesting, they just about jump out of the speakers. To have a few witty turns of phrase to sink your teeth into? All the better.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PARTY LIKE A LOBSTER | Released by the Sophomore Beat | with the Life I Lead + Small Talk + Directions + Teamwork | at the Dover Brickhouse, in Dover, NH | April 17 | with Bayside + Man, the Reformer | at the Empire, in Portland | April 20 | facebook.com/tsbmusic