Inland Towns is a cosmopolitan blend of upbeat guitar rock and keyboard pop from Chicago's The Friendly Lens. The Friendly Lens has jokingly referred to themselves as "a Midwestern take on Brit-pop" being heavily influenced by Morrissey and Blur to make sad songs that are danceable.
The Friendly Lens is filling a necessity here, as Chicago is not known for being metropolitan even though it's one of the United States' largest cities. Despite having a vibrant music scene across all genres, the stereotype of Chicago music still leans towards stripped down, blue collar punk rock, and hissing, sparking industrial music, with a dash of house music.
This doesn't represent the wide variety of people you can find walking down Michigan Avenue on any given afternoon. This image of Chicago as the City Of Wide Shoulders, a kind of rustbelt socialist utopia, just isn't that accurate any longer. The steel mills are all closed now. The meat packing plants are operating at a fraction of capacity. Like most cities in the United States, Chicago has moved towards an information-gathering hub of big business. You're more likely to see a three-piece suit on the streets than a hard hat.
The Friendly Lens reflects this shift, making sharp, smart and slick indie pop. You can hear echoes of Moz in the vocals and a little bit of Johnny Marr in the stuttering guitars but this jangle is underscored by Bee Gees string swells and little touches like piano and harmonica.
Inland Towns is a short and sweet document, so there's no reason to not swallow it whole, but if you're looking for a flavor the album opener "In Your Car Last Night" is probably the best realized effort here, with organs and strings, and poetic, heartfelt lyrics about "charging St. Peter's gate." The guitars are appropriately chunky, which just makes it that much more thrilling when they break into clean, ringing arpeggios.
I got rather tired of this brand of cosmopolitan guitar rock in the wake of The Strokes, which sounded like so much music for male models but it is more charming, coming from The Friendly Lens. That's probably because, try as they might, people from the Midwest have a really hard time being pretentious. It's like humility is inherent in their art being in the dead center of the country.
Chicago also has a tendency for craftsmanship and engineering. They know how to MAKE things in that city and make things that last. This same ethos goes towards music as it goes into fire hydrants and manhole covers. This functionality actually makes the music classier and more enduring, which says something about music made to fit the flavor of the minute. Fans of The Smiths, Morrissey, the second British Invasion (Brit-Pop), as well as artful Power Pop - Ben Folds, Cheap Trick, Ken Stringfellow, and The Smoking Popes, will find a lot to love here.
This is a grand opening from a great new band and a great reminder to stop and listen to the middle of the country.
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