Over the past few years, SideOneDummy Records has become one of the best independent labels for rock ‘n’ roll in America, releasing excellent albums by Jesse Malin, Gaslight Anthem, Gogol Bordello, and Flogging Molly—to name just a few. Specializing in a brand of rock with roots in Springsteen-esque Americana, ska, and punk, SideOneDummy’s roster of artists seems to grow more impressive monthly. The label recently scored big with the signing of Swedish punk-pop stalwarts the Sounds, and is home to one of 2010’s most exciting bands, Fake Problems, which released its third album, Real Ghosts Caught on Tape, in September.
Much like Gaslight Anthem, Fake Problems’ repertoire is heavy on jangly guitar chords, anthemic choruses, and lyrics that recount the everyday struggles of regular folks. It’s certainly not a new formula; Springsteen and Neil Young are the progenitors of this brand of rock. However, much like Gaslight Anthem, Fake Problems manages to sound fresh by augmenting their classic rock sound with power-pop aesthetics—slick harmonies and sugary hooks, in particular—and earnest lyrics. Like Springsteen and Young, the real secret to Fake Problems’ success is in the vocals. Chris Farren’s singing, which gets gloriously throaty and off-key at high volumes, is the perfect quivering counterpoint to the band’s working class riffs and four-on-the-floor drums.
Most of the songs on Real Ghosts Caught on Tape are mid to up-tempo pop gems. Album opener “ADT” kicks things off in true album rock fashion: A march-like drum cadence gradually gives way to muted power chords accented by a sizzling lead guitar line. As the infectious chorus kicks in, Farren and his mates show off another one of their strengths: stellar harmonies. In “5678”, Farren sings in distorted falsetto as reggae-like guitar and percussion juts in and out of the free spaces. The song’s refrain is “Everybody’s clapping along”, and that’s just what you’ll want to do when the chorus, with its pounding drums and timely handclaps, starts.
The best song on Real Ghosts Caught on Tape is “Soulless”, an infectious ska-inflected power-pop anthem. Anchored by a rhythm line reminiscent of “Lust for Life”, the tune combines punk guitar from the ‘70s with doo-wop harmonies from the ‘60s. The result, however, is something incredibly modern-sounding. The song also features the album’s best lyrics, which epitomize Farren’s simple, earnest approach: “I was soulless, soulless, broken down / I was hollow as a ghost / But you have brought me back to life and revived the hope / Take me home”.
Real Ghosts Caught on Tape is an impressive effort and proof that rock ‘n’ roll is alive and kicking in 2011. It’s also one more reason rock fans should pay attention to SideOneDummy Records.
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