II (CD, LP)

    Other Music Recording Co.

  • $13.99

When drummer Ryan Naideau brought in a few copies of his band's self-released second record to sell at Other Music last spring, who knew that four months later, the high-octane power-pop in those grooves would become the second full-length release from our own new label? But I was charmed from the moment I heard the rumbling snare drum roll that opens "Radio," while simultaneously scanning the LP's Xeroxed black-and-white insert and finding a tiny picture of Bruce Springsteen; my computer's browser history has looked suspicious ever since, from Internet searches for Nude Beach.

One wet, hot American summer later, and II stands tall as my favorite rock and roll album of the year. The trio -- made up of Naideau, guitarist and singer Chuck Betz, and bassist Jimmy Shelton -- play rootsy pub-rock with precision and ferocity. The records they've listened to and love bleed through the speakers, with chords and words that wink and nod towards the last 50 years of pop-minded rock music, and a deep affection for artists like Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Big Star, Bruce Springsteen, the Replacements, Tom Petty and the couldn't-care-less-itude of the Exploding Hearts. What all of those bands have in common is the way that they harness their momentum and power into the creation of a damn good hook. Some of this is pure mathematics -- it's Naideau crashing a couple of cymbals to set up a slippery guitar solo from Betz on "Walking Down My Street," like a rock and roll alley-oop. At times if feels like a slight of hand, like how "Some Kinda Love" could be a song that Nick Lowe already wrote.

If you found yourself daydreaming of electric guitars, pretty girls, and souped-up Pontiacs while listening to Numero Group's Titan or Buttons power-pop sets, you're already primed to toss back a cold brew and drop the needle on Nude Beach. But where some of those Midwest rockers can seem just a little too macho, Betz's lyrics tend toward blue-eyed and soulful; I love the line in "Walking Down My Street," when he sings, "I don't care if you see me cry or bleed, I just need you baby." Or the hook of "Some Kinda Love," where the protagonist runs away to follow his dream, only to realize "I can't dream, unless I'm sleeping next to you."

It's actually pretty tough to make great rock 'n' roll music. One difficulty comes from two opposing forces that the audience expects: you have to both mean it (sincerity), and you have to not give a damn (attitude). Most rock bands can only muster one or the other; so when both forces meet and explode, it makes for something unique and powerful. II is both heartfelt and full of piss and vinegar -- and damn if it doesn't feel like something really special. Obviously -- I mean, we went ahead and released it!

-Michael Stasiak (August 16, 2012)

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