The Handsome Static is the debut album by The Handsome Static, a Pennsylvania-based rock band that’s been playing together for about four years. Bob Pettit is the guitarist and main songwriter and has written and recorded for many of the bands on the Blind Pigeon Records label. The other members (instruments not specified) are Mike Babcock, Troy Chapelle and Mike Naydock.
Handsome Static describes their sound in various ways: “rural prog pop,” “Guided By Voices meets XTC with a Richard Thompson sensibility” and “shoegaze and jam band goodness. Pick yer poison and get yer freak on.” I can’t tell if these guys were also influenced by the garage bands of the late ’60s, or by the next generation or two that copied those original groups.
A typical Handsome Static song is framed by blasting guitar chords, over which are added digital keyboards, acoustic guitar, lead vocals and harmonies. This is a group that likes their stomp box volume knobs turned all the way to the right, and they move a serious amount of air. What is sometimes lost in detail is more than made up for in sheer rock energy. The human element also cannot be overlooked or minimized. The vocals fight for sonic space with everything else, but I really like their voices: not TOO wiseass but definitely not your standard issue rock singers. The guitars and keyboards are not always 100% in tune with each other, which is fine by me. Finally, it’s nice to hear a band using a real drummer with great chops who keeps this stuff interesting and chugging forward.
In the opening “The Slow Children” the guitars slam right in, sharing space with a pops-sounding organ. In this fast, insistent rock tune, there’s barely room for anything to breathe, but it’s a sweet, life affirming noise (with a great guitar solo). Sometimes the organ sounds like it’s playing a different song, which adds another level of complexity. A surprisingly tender acoustic piano and bass movement ends the song. “Cars” again features overdriven guitars that threaten to blow the tubes in all the amps; there’s a great melodic song here if you can fight your way through the fuzz. “Texas” has more of a rural feel with wailing “Greek Chorus” lead guitars throughout. Love the opening lyric couplet: “She regrets the vows she made in Texas / I guess she’s not a cowgirl after all.”
“What A Way To Make A Living” changes things up with swaggering vocals (quite clear in the mix) against clanging guitar riffs and a cool Moog synth solo. “She Had It Down” has an appealing picked guitar and piano trills intro, leading into loud chiming chords and swooping bass runs; a fun tune about a girl who “always had to take things to extremes.”
“Something Better Than Good” is appropriately titled, as this Elvis Costello-like song is better than most of these other very good tracks with a return of the Handsome Static untethered vocal style. The lyrics use the “comparison” scheme of Alanis Morissettes’s “Ironic.” “It’s unconditional friendship / when you thought you didn’t have a prayer / it’s an unabashed epiphany / with the whole damned world right there.” Also dig the reference to Dylan’s "Blonde on Blonde… on vinyl.” Top pick!
“Deadwood” features harmony lead guitars, grungier than the Allmans but ever so tasty. “When I Part The Sea” has a quirky beat with picked guitars, organ and harmony vocals right up front. Love the repeating lyrical button “I will never ever / ever ever / ever ever be ignored again!” Another melodic, hit-bound tune unapologetically recorded in the red!
“Left Hand Lies,” the final selection, recalls the Rolling Stones in their psychedelic phase. Even more overdriven guitar and diverting digital piano,\ with bonus middle section guitar and keyboard jam. Background vocals are buried WAY in the back.
There’s 12 songs total and pretty much all of them have something to recommend. If this kind of loud but melodic rock is your bag, you might want to bag them all!
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