In our ongoing series, we bring you the albums that you may have missed upon their initial release. This time around, Push To Fire writer Mark Plummer delves into the music we discover through TV, even if it’s at the expense of revealing a guilty pleasure.
By Mark Plummer
So I thought it would be a fun concept to take a major guilty pleasure of mine, and use it to add a twist to this feature; even if it comes at the expense of owning up to having watched this. So The Hills, MTV reality show about the life and exploits of a bunch of rich kids from Laguna Beach. Yeah I could cop a lot of flak, yet it has one hell of a soundtrack. Bands like All-American Rejects, Weezer and Jimmy Eat World, have all graced the show musically, so here are three lesser known releases that I have found through the show; I guess keeping an open mind has paid off.
This Providence – Who Are You Now? (2009)
Genre: Alternative Rock/Indie Rock
I believe that the idea of matching music to a TV show, is not just confined to finding a musical fit for a particular moment, but a lyrical one as well. This Providence then are a seemingly perfect fit, with multiple songs from the album being featured on The Hills.
From the line “she sealed my fate with her conniving sugar kisses” – Letdown, to the chorus of Selfish: “you might deny it but you’re tied to your desires […] and you’re selfish just like everyone else”. these are lyrics that speak of deceit and cons within people, something that LA appears to be built upon – if the stories are to be believed.
Away from the featured tracks, there are grander, more opalescent songs. A personal favourite, and probably the most underrated track, would be Chasing The Wind. Innocent and unassuming on the surface, it introduces a laid back approach that surrounds its subject in a web of intriguing metaphors: “a pink painted tree house in weeping willows”. The mix of acoustic and electric guitars is broken up by the strings in the chorus, as well as the piano riddled second verse; coupled with an uncomplicated drum beat, and this is a lesson in how to take a simplistic approach, weave complexity into the framework, and produce a result that is far from intimidating or boring.
Elsewhere, and there’s the prominent bass in This Is The Real Thing, achieving depth just when the drums feel a little over powered and forgotten. From here, it’s into the gentle and soulful Keeping On Without You, flowing rather than walking from verse to chorus. There’s a rich texture of musical layers that are carefully laid out over one another, so as not to impose on each aspect of musicianship.
The vocals themselves are smooth and provide an ideal of how the vocalist appears to understand the need on each individual track, take the track that follows on – Squeaking Wheels & White Lights – and there’s an evolution in the vocals that allows them to be that little bit grittier and show the expression that is needed.
That’s what this album is, it’s a selection of tracks that express an understanding of how changes only need to be subtle to leave the largest mark on a listener.
The Academy Is… – Fast Times At Barrington High (2008)
Genre: Pop-punk/Power pop
It would appear naive to not include a band who have donated half of an album to The Hills, even if this release is more well-known of the trio (debuting at 17 in the US and named the 46th best album in 2008 according to Rolling Stone). Whilst this album only set me back $5 – thanks Canada -, the inherent catchiness of every single track is worth a lot more than that pittance.
The lightness of songs such as About A Girl, Summer Hair = Forever Young and His Girl Friday are balanced with those of varying heaviness, tempo and style, such as The Test and Rumored Nights. It’s not like these tracks have an inherent complication to them, in essence they’re pretty straightforward, both in structure and lyrical content; don’t let that put you or anyone else off for that matter, they are damn catchy and firmly root themselves within the mind.
Ultimately though, it’s all relatable. Okay yes, there’s a lot of material out there about relationships et cetera, but when it’s given a firm base to stand on, the meaning it portrays is elevated.
Fast Times At Barrington High is that type of summer album, with an anthem on every other step; it has the ability to both comfort with any relatable material, whilst handing out a grin as wide as the Cheshire Cat’s.
Sparks The Rescue – Eyes To The Sun (2009)
Genre: Pop-Punk/Alternative Rock
The majority of punk-rock/pop-punk bands around these days, I can’t stomach; perhaps it’s due to the genre overspilling with mediocre acts, sounding like everyone else before them. Whatever the reason, Sparks The Rescue are a different entity to me.
It could be the strength of opener, My Heart Radio; it’s crunchy guitars are full-bodied, with a fantastic dirty sound to the distortion; they certainly grab your attention. Couple this with a very involved drum line – it may sound ridiculous to state this about the one instrument that glues any band together, but so many bands lack the ability to provide a solid drum part – and here are a band that, for me, seemed to understand what pop-punk was about: enjoyment.
The guitars play their rhythm parts well, but excel when allowed to expand; gifting licks and riffs over the muted rhythm verses, like that in Pine Tree State. Above all though, the vocals are more distinct and shine over those of similar bands. This is not the generic american accent, there’s a twang that helps to graft and carve consciousness into this twelve track masterclass; what’s more, with conviction. It doesn’t stop here, when the backup vocals come to the party, they bring their own imposing style, harmonising well with the lead; such as in the single, Autumn.
Sparks The Rescue don’t have just one vocalist to rely upon, sure there’s a “main” vocalist, but the support is more than adequate to take up a role that surpasses that of just supplementary. If there is to be a criticism, it would be just that, there’s a chance for vocal expansion and it’s not utilised. That being said, the two different tones work in tandem vicariously. At times the sibilants are maybe a tad harsh, but there is an overall balance where the vocals are concerned.
A deeper look at the material and by the time Hello Mexico announces itself, gone is the grit and dirt; instead the way is paved for a mellower tone, backed up by clean guitars involving a charming riff through the chorus; all this as the singer talks of drinking margaritas in the snow. This is where the clean-cut pop-punk act disproves itself, yes Hello Mexico is probably a little cliché, but the following track: Skeleton, just wants to sit somewhere between pulling your face off and being the loner at a party who stands broodily in the corner. By the time the guitar solo enters, following a second verse with a soaring hook that simmers beneath the surface, this album comes across as a mixed bag of tricks. It beseeches the question: just what will appear on the next track?
This is ultimately the success of Eyes To The Sun, that ability to catch listeners off guard; act with an unpredictable nature; throw some synths and keys in here, a light song there; for good measure, some good ol’ punk infused rock as well. We Love Like Vampires; Shipwreck; American Blues; Chemistry Set, it’s all hook filled (plus the odd pinch harmonic in the later); it’s all gravy!