Every now and then, a startlingly original-sounding record from a brand-new artist comes along. But more common lately are new bands whose influences are obvious, but who still manage to kick my ass through their fresh approach, their enthusiasm, and the catchiness of their songs. One such combo is England's Electric Soft Parade (teenaged brothers Tom and Alex White), who released one of 2002's best albums with Holes in the Wall.
What distinguishes The Electric Soft Parade from other excellent but, well, not particularly original new bands, such as Radio 4 (Gang of Four, PiL) or The Strokes (Television, Lou Reed), is the manner in which they conjure up memories of so many different bands across the 12 songs on their debut. A bit of Blur's Brit-pop here, a lot of Teenage Fanclub there, a smidgen of Dinosaur Jr. guitar noise and so forth. Far more importantly, they load every song with enough hooks to land a school of mackerel, as my grandpa might say, if I had a grandfather who fished.
Perhaps the most surprising element of this debut from the Electric Soft Parade is that almost every note of it was recorded solely by the brothers White, who show a mastery of the studio far beyond their years, sharing duties on all the instruments and vocals (I believe in live shows Alex fronts and strums while Tom drums, with additional musicians fleshing out their sound).
"Start Again" opens the album on a slow, heavy note, all distorted rhythm guitars and big drums until the vocodered vocals kick in, mercifully giving way to the genuinely human sound of Alex White's voice on the chorus. It's epic in the manner of the early Boo Radleys (eclectic '90s English rock group, perhaps best known for its smash UK hit album Wake Up, Boo!), and just as the final stern downstroke hits, the light, catchy "Empty at the End" breezes in on a bed of drum machines and keyboard bass, the music's buoyancy juxtaposed by the chorus' cry of "All I know is no one is my friend/ And it's empty at the end/ So let's start again." Followed, improbably, by 30 seconds of controlled guitar chaos and the singer's comments of "yeah yeah" midway through the shredding. Two tracks in, Holes in the Wall has me captivated and scarcely prepared for "There's a Silence," built from a similar template as the previous track but scaling to even greater heights of guitar-fueled fun.
A respite of sorts arrives with the chugging, Crazy Horse-by-way-of-latter-day-Pavement guitars of "Something's Got to Give," one of several well-placed tempo changers on this disc. "Sleep Alone" is a sumptuous ballad, all minor-chorded acoustic guitars and synth squiggles cushioning a vulnerable vocal. The epic-length "Silent to the Dark" stretches a good tune a little too thin at nine minutes, but we'll chalk that one up to the excesses of youth. And the massive hooks found on the likes of "This Given Time" more than offset the occasional minor misstep. An eclectic, highly promising debut.