Album: What The Hell Do I Know?
Comments: Who the fuck has ever heard of Bucks County, PA? Unless you’re from the county in question, chances are you’ve never heard of the suburban / rural-ish area of PA (if you’re from Philadelphia, you might know the name as nothing more than a coffee company). Indie rock four-piece Illinois is hoping to change that, and put their little know hometown on the map. And with the buzz they’re starting to generate amongst the internet tastemakers, not to mention some good career breaks (singing with Ace Fu Records, opening for the Hold Steady, playing Lollapalooza this summer, ect.) it looks like they might not be too far off from doing that. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their first professional release, What The Hell Do I Know, is a catchy, smart, and sweet little pop record.
It’s a good thing that this record is as tight as it is. With only seven tracks and total runtime of just over 20 minutes, it can’t afford to be sloppy. Then again, tight doesn’t mean there can’t be a little life in the music. Take for example the banjo plucking, hip hop pop of “Nosebleed”. This is a messy little track with distorted bluesy vocals, a catchy as hell rhythm and some pretty sharp lyrics. Front-man Chris Archibald croons “I know what you need/ and it’s a good nosebleed” like an grandfather on his porch yelling at those damn kids to get off his lawn and turn that damn rock music down, but with a wry smile and a charming air to him. The bluesy backwater feel returns again on the catchy “Screendoor”. “Screendoor” is the kind of songs the Kinks would have written if they came from backwater Louisiana instead of suburban UK. And the borrowing / covering of Soup Dragon’s “Bad Day” is an under-produced, over drummed mess of a song that tells the charming narrative of a slacker protagonist who is every post grad in the country.
The rest of the album is less unique and more polished pop, but it is no less personal and inspired. “What Can I Do For You” plays like a Ben Folds song without the self satisfaction, or Keane with more sincerity. “Alone Again” sounds like something we would hear from The Fray, but without all the screaming girls and cliché. Of these glossy pop tracks, the one that works best is “Headphones”, which is about escape through music. It follows the quiet-LOUD-quiet dynamic of late 80s-mid90s rock, but with a tender and restrained touch. Archibald tells us the he “feels so lonely when I talk / can’t I just put the headphones on?” It’s a very personal and modern twist on a very public and widespread emotion, which is feeling lonely even when surrounded by people.
This seven song LP is a good start for this promising young band. Time will tell if they can keep the balance of smooth pop and down-home country electro-rock, but as things stand, this is a very strong release from the next big thing. If they can keep this up, Illinois just might put Bucks County on the map.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: Headphones, Screen Door, Alone Again, Bad Day
Worth The Money: Yes. Get on this train before it leaves the station to Hype-Ville.