Headstart! go where they wanna go
There was a time when we wouldn’t review EPs in this space (Sontiago is still bitter about it). EPs were stop-gaps, unimportant works, the theory went. Albums were serious affairs worthy of review.
Times have changed [*The “times” in this instance is October 2010]. An iTunes-trained culture is now back to consuming music by the single morsel and local producers like Jonathan Wyman are now advocating (rightly, in my opinion) that bands focus their efforts on bite-sized releases in more frequent fashion, giving the public more opportunity to catch that one great song they want for the workout mix.
Few bands have embraced this as heartily as Headstart!, whose pop-radio-rock orientation makes them ideally suited for this new paradigm. Throwing over pretensions about making “art,” they began a series of EPs last year with A, and now deliver B for the Halloween weekend. Yes, they fully intend a C, and as many more alphabet letters as finances and life’s right turns allow.
While the first installment in the series comprised straight-ahead pop songs in classic Headstart! fashion, B is more experimental. Sure, there is the smash-hit-sounding “Monday,” that opens the disc and will likely get plenty of spins on local radio, but the other four songs here are all decidedly left of pop center.
First that “Monday,” though. It’s as straight-up a radio rock song as a band could muster nowadays, with a quickly sung verse from frontman Kevin Kennie, a huge singalong chorus, a semi-reggae segue bit to spice things up, and a gang-vocal bridge before things wrap up. There isn’t a band in town that knows better how to put together this particular puzzle.
“You used to feel like Saturday/ No work and plenty of play,” Kennie sings, borrowing from a pop tradition that goes as far back, at least, to the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday, Monday.” Now, however, “you feel like a Monday/ You feel like a thankless job/ You feel like something long and painful.” Ouch.
Then they follow that with a song about twice as mature and interesting, if not quite as instantly catchy. Opening with a piano and dirty guitar, “Home Vs. Away” is melancholy in a way they haven’t been since the Our House record, which was darker than this. Kennie’s throaty yell has been replaced by a more nuanced sing. And the chorus, which progresses like a relationship from I to you to we, absolutely buries the hook.
Even when Headstart! seem to be cranking out a throwback to earlier albums, as on the 2:35 pop track “Doesn’t that Sound Good,” they’re throwing out a wrinkle: that’s rhythm guitarist Ian Blanchard on lead vocals.
The craziest track here is “I’m the One,” a song that truly shows Headstart! are willing to try just about anything. It opens expansive and heavy, with digital whirs and feedback, crazed vocals stepping all over each other to create a manic feel. It could be a Dead Season tune. Well, until it flips into a pop chorus with a call-and-response rhythm.
Then it goes completely off the rails, dialing back into a piano-infused metal ballad before launching into a Queen-style chorus of voices like someone just dosed you.
If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun. As is seeing a band like Headstart! focusing less on what they’re supposed to do and more on what they want to do. Though they’ve never been predictable, with this album they’ll expand opinions of them greatly.
Photo credit: Matthew Robbins