Action at a Distance is a pop-rock band from southern California. Formed in 2016, Molecular Collisions is the band’s first release. The band draws influences from alt-rock and pop punk of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, naming bands like Foo Fighters, Blink-182 and Green Day. Recording the record themselves, the group managed to accentuate their tight rock arrangements with a surprising pop sheen.
“Chemistry” is an apt title for the first track, corresponding to the band’s name—a reference to an Einstein quote—and their album title. Opening the record with a quick-moving pattern full of bass fills and chugging guitar, the verse immediately shifts into a throwback to early rock n’ roll songwriting. The vocal harmonies in the chorus, along with solid and busy instrumental parts, offer a classic power-pop vibe with a peppy punk edge. “Chemistry” sets the standard for the record of Fountains of Wayne-like compositional energy with modern alt-rock radio stylistic cues.
While “Keys in the Dark” once again follows the pattern of an angsty opening with a punchy, melodic chorus, “The Night” is the first sign of something different with a lilting acoustic guitar and cavernous ambience. Reminiscent of that particular style of post-grunge power ballads, the 3/4 time and Goo Goo Dolls-evoking string parts make for a polished slice of acoustic pop, but the arrangement doesn’t offer much variety. Still, the effect is intact even after the track’s near six-minute runtime. “Shake Your Ass, Girl!” seems somewhat parodical, given its name and breakneck, significantly electronic arrangement. The heavily auto-tuned vocals call electro-pop acts like Hellogoodbye to mind, but the songwriting is more punk than anything EDM-based. Ultimately the track comes off as quite similar to Metro Station’s breakout hit “Shake It”, though perhaps with a bit more of a wink and a nod.
“Up Against the Wall” carries over some of the previous track’s frenetic energy, but returns to a more punk atmosphere. The bass has some great serpentine lines, while the drums even get in a touch of double-bass-drum blasting. The distorted effect on the vocals things out the part a little, but ultimately this is a straightforward rager.
“California” has some folksy flair, with woody acoustic and a twangy lead guitar. There’s certainly a mood whiplash here from the previous track, and the drum part still has more of a kick-heavy punk attitude than the breezier guitar and vocal arrangement. That said, it’s an impressively fresh pivot on a record with so many styles and textures at play.
“You’re Breaking My Heart” returns to the same sonic territory covered by “The Night” with a deep tremolo guitar accentuating an acoustic-led instrumental. The vocals here have more of the shallowness heard elsewhere, but the harmonies are right on. Though the track may seem somewhat sentimental, it switches to a heavier pop-punk style just when things start to get a bit staid, injecting a different emotional note right on cue.
The last original track on the record, “Six Years of Summer” seems like an earlier cut; not only is the songwriting more firmly in a pop-punk style, but the recording quality sounds rougher, more like a proof of concept for much of the rest of the record. Despite this, the song has the perfect balance of punk furor, pop sweetness and instrumental heroics. The drumming is at its most manic, partly metal and partly a zippy disco stomp, and the simple synth pad hits just the right spot for maximum emotional impact.
The record concludes with a stripped-down acoustic performance of the dusty track “California.” Though it’s nice to hear a slightly different and more “live” texture, this cut seems largely unnecessary for two reasons; not only is the full arrangement still acoustic-heavy, but it also robs “Six Years of Summer” of its moment as a take-no-prisoners conclusion. That said, it’s still pleasant and well-put-together, certainly ending the record on one of its best notes.
Though occasionally repeating their moves, Action at a Distance has delivered a solid, artful set of songs with Molecular Collisions. Mashing together aspects of vital punk and aggressive alt with the harmony of power-pop and indelible classic rock moments, the record shows the band is beyond mere imitation. Hopefully their craft will only continue to improve.
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