GROUPLOVE, and their debut release, Never Trust a Happy Song – out this past September 13 on Atlantic Records.
You may already be a bit unintentionally aware of the band via their track "Colours," which has appeared in a widely-appearing Chevy commercial and leadoff single "Tongue Tied" promoting Apple's iPod touch. Sure, the mid-90s version of your blogger would have derided such abject commercialism, and would have pointed out that acts like R.E.M. and Pearl Jam would would sooner be caught dead then overtly endorse any product or service. But times have changed with music acquisition nearly exclusively occurring online (legally or otherwise) via the massive decline in record stores, radio stations featuring new music and a bastardized MTV who refuses to air any music videos. Accordingly, bands – especially young bands – need to aggressively promote themselves in as many venues as possible, and mainstream commercials are just one avenue.
Regardless, both tracks featured in the product promos are catchy and representative samples of the group's work on the record. The former is mid-tempo and a touch sludgy, but hooky enough to lure new audiences. Featuring the nasally wail of primary lead vocalist and guitarist Christian Zucconi and solid background vocals from keyboardist Hannah Hooper, it blends Weezer (NMT)-style chorus crunch with looping verses. Its counterpart in "Tongue Tied" is even catchier, with a carefree party grove built around the same bouncy rhythm that anchored the Smashing Pumpkins' iconic "1979" with the blitzing jocularity of contemporary acts like Los Campesinos! (NMT), The Givers (NMT) and Library Voices (NMT). The only fear with the latter track is the risk of it caroming off the cliff into the ravine of dance pop, only one remix away from stocking the playlists of dance clubs everywhere.
Elsewhere, the album's dozen tracks largely feature upbeat and enjoyable pop rock, with a few exceptions. The reggae sway of "Lovely Cup" breezes along with a delightful lightness and "Spun" is both the record's finest cut and one that should earn a spot on any collection of road anthems, alongside highway soundtrack tracks from artists like The Eagles, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac. It might actually be best suited in a pairing with modern road anthems like The Arcade Fire's (NMT) "Keep the Car Running," the Great Lakes Myth Society's "Across the Bridge" and Hey Rosetta's (NMT) "Seeds," especially with Zucconi's lead-in mandolin trading-off nicely with guitarist Andrew Wessen's sturdy electric parts. Deeper tracks like the beach party tribute "Naked Kids" and the harder rockabilly romp of "Chloe" fit well with the record's lighthearted vibe.
But the band is a little less successful on a few other efforts here. While opener "Itchin' on a Photograph" is a fine tune on its own right, Zucconi's vocal range seems to get the best of him, as he spends the better part of the track screeching to a level that could be labeled as unmusical. Meanwhile, Hooper's first taste of leadoff vocals on "Slow" aren't the finest introduction to her talents. Not that her singing isn't adequate here, but rather the song's concept is so dull (as its title might suggest) that her debut is rather ho-hum. It sounds as it could have served as the prime example of the Eurythmics' forays into the depths of the avant garde. Fortunately, she gets another shot on "Love Will Save Your Soul," and delivers on the slightly bluesy number. Later on, Zucconi uses his distinct nasal delivery to better advantage on "Cruel and Beautiful World," harnessing it more like Rural Alberta Advantage's (NMT) Nils Edenloff, especially with its blend of rusty acoustic guitars and scratch rhythm section backing from bassist Sean Gadd and drummer Ryan Rabin.
Come for: "Tongue Tied"
Stay for: "Spun"
You'll be surprised by: "Lonely Cup"