The lo-fi Lows; the Summers' Story.
I've long been a big fan/supporter of the Jackson, Mississippi, punk band the Overnight Lows. The band's dynamite debut album, City of Rotten Eyes, was released by local label Goner Records in 2010 — truthfully, it might be my favorite Goner title — and has been in regular rotation on my personal playlist ever since.
Initially, I was a little disappointed by this new single from the band. For starters, the two songs on it sound much more lo-fi than the band's previous efforts that I've heard. It basically sounds like it was cut with the Lows playing inside of a tin can. Besides that, the band is, shall we say, a little bit looser than usual on Cones and Rods, and the lead vocals ares flat-out buried underneath the wall of noise. Again, I just didn't get into it at first.
But I'm a fan, so I kept playing it, and it started to reveal itself three or four listens in. Underneath the lo-fi-ness and occasionally out-of-tune guitars is the undeniable fact that the Overnight Lows write insanely catchy and memorable songs. The A side, "Cones and Rods," is classic Overnight Lows — fast, snarky, and to-the-point punk rock. The B side, "Shouldn't Say It," is the bigger revelation, as it veers ever-so-slightly toward a more '60s/garage-rock sound than one would expect from the band while still maintaining its sharp edge.
They say that things that are challenging to appreciate at first often end up being more rewarding in the end. If that's the case, then this record may well be on my top 5 list by the year's end. As it stands now, it's still pretty damn good.
I honestly couldn't think of a more apt title for the latest offering from the local pop-punk family-band the Summers than It's No Life Story. After all, these kids haven't exactly run life's gauntlet at this point. The oldest member of the Summers is, coincidentally, the only member whose last name isn't "Summers," 20-year-old bassist/vocalist Peter Armstrong, who joined the trio of brothers — drummer Branson (19) and twin guitarist/vocalists Jared and Wesley (17) — in 2009. Which is not to say that I think the age factor is necessarily what's wrong with this record, but I suspect it might play a part in it.
Let's start with the positives: The Summers are obviously competent musicians, particularly Branson, who is a skilled drummer beyond his years. His thunderous attack really drives It's No Life Story. And though their particular style isn't my cup of tea, the guys clearly do have a knack for melody and song structure. The problem is, these melodies are buried beneath layers of terrible modern rock production and whiny emo/boy-band vocals. This all might sound harsh, but I wonder if maybe these guys wouldn't sound a million times better recording more honestly, on their own. I really wanted to like this record, but I just don't think these guys have found their authentic voice as artists. Case in point: The clear highlight here is the hidden, acoustic version of It's No Life Story's opening track, "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," which closes the record. Free of the schlocky production and by-the-numbers emo/pop-punk cliches, you can actually start to hear the potential. But the Summers aren't there ... yet.