On the Like’s first album, 2005’s Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?, the band had a lot going for it: an instant pop pedigree of the kind that comes with being the progeny of record industry royalty, a fierce independence of the sort often ascribed to an all girl group any time members play their own instruments with any level of competence, charmingly cautious folk-pop songs, and the voice of frontwoman Z Berg. Puzzlingly, despite all these clear attributes, the Like hadn’t hit upon quite the combination that makes indie-pop darlings.
Fast forward five years later and the Like may have found the magical missing piece in the form of another industry darling, Mark Ronson. Ronson’s role as producer on Release Me extends a bit beyond the standard studio control room job description. More than guiding the sound of the music, he has influenced the image of the band. The Like has gone from fledgling folk stylings to polished, impeccably produced pop tunes. Awash in organ and filled with several girl-group affectations (lest we forget, it was Mark Ronson who was partly responsible for Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black), Release Me is the stuff of retro-pop wet dreams, all spun-sugar harmonies and bad girl love themes set against a bubblegum beat.
Right from the beginning, the candy-coating is what captures you. Opening track “Wishing He Was Dead” pounds down your defenses immediately with its mid-sixties, mod-but-not-Motown backbeat and bouncing bass line. Before you know it, you’re hooked and riding high on syrupy swells of organ long before you even realize that Berg is singing about kicking in the head of the cheating lover she wishes dead. Much of the album is like this, with violent revenge and other dark lyrics folded into sweet, sunny power-pop confections.
“He’s Not a Boy”, one of the highlights of Release Me, sounds for all the world like a long lost Boyce and Hart gem, rhythmically and melodically. It’s even got some sonic similarities with a Monkees classic on the production side too, in that each distinct sound seems to be trying to leap from the speakers. Everything on this song is pushed to the fore, and I mean really, ear-ringing-ly pushed, though not unpleasantly so. This may be Ronson’s technique du jour, because he uses it in several places throughout the album. But on some of the other songs, it has the unintended effect of making it seem like something is hidden, like some mysterious shortcoming is being buried behind the production.
Of course, that feeling is soon forgotten when one of these songs really gets it right. “Catch Me If You Can” is that song: It is, again, heavy on the organ and hard hitting on the big beat, it has handclaps and halting harmonies, but it’s also got a great guitar riff reminiscent of early Zombies. As a bonus, you won’t have to listen too closely to catch a nod to Del Shannon in the background of the chorus. In short, “Catch Me If You Can” sums up everything sugary power-pop should be, and all that Release Me is trying to achieve. For the Like, it looks like all the pieces are finally falling into place.
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// Notes from the Road
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