Bursting out of Midwest college town Madison, Wisconsin in gradual increments, self-described “doo-wop punk” band Locksley (now based out of New York City) has been pogo-ing insistently around the fringes of the mainstream for a half-decade or so now. Their hooky garage-pop is tailor-made to be dished out in brief, attractive portions. Sure enough, they can boast a full resume of songs licensed for commercials, film, and television, most recently and notably shout-along single “The Whip”, featured in the trailers for Rango, an animated movie that cast Johnny Depp as a lizard.
In the 21st century, the windfalls of song licensing can provide sufficient financial motivation to hold even the most artistically dormant act together. Locksley, with their energetic British Invasion harmonizing and slick guitar pop sound, seem both keenly aware of this and solidly positioned to take advantage of it. Indeed, frontman Jesse Laz has credited just that commercial avenue with keeping the band together and working without much in the way of radio exposure. This is the way of the times, of course, and smart self-promoting acts like Locksley (who have a song called “21st Century”, even) would be foolish to disregard it.
Even if they stop just short of producing elaborately-choreographed videos that beg for viral exposure, this is a band that ought to keep their focus on such gimmicks. Such a focus is suggested because their music, it must be said, is not the biggest of draws. Their relentless upbeat garage-rock sound will always have its limited charms, but even the finest practitioners of the craft have trouble standing out from hipper and more cutting-edge indie acts (just ask Sloan).
Locksley, sadly, are not among the finest practitioners of the craft. Fun but predictable tunes like “Love You Too” and “Don’t Make Me Wait” are rife with calculated spontaneity and proscribed joy. Other cuts, like “All of the Time” or the hyper-Beatlesque “Away from Here”, are simply dull and bereft of even the slightest sense of melodic invention. Even the enormously catchy “The Whip”, mirroring the Fratellis’ gloriously lunkheaded anthem “Chelsea Dagger” as it does, is mostly unimaginative party-dude posturing when you get right down to it.
Some tracks do fare better. The strummy surf-pop of “Days of Youth” is uncomplicated but appealing, and the wild brevity of “She Does” suggests the high-concept garage rock of their one-time tourmates the Hives. But Locksley’s pinnacle of elation on the record has got to be “Oh, Wisconsin!” (“On my mind since 1849!”), an ode to their old cheeseheaded stomping grounds during which Laz even finds room to subtly acknowledge that the band left their Midwestern home state years ago (for New York and advertising-assisted semi-fame, evidently).
Still, the delight is not only fleeting, but recycled, and not merely from Locksley’s unpretentious melodic forbearers, but also from Locksley themselves. This self-titled release is mostly a compilation of re-issued songs from previous albums, a whopping seven tracks coming from their 2010 release Be In Love alone. Granted, to most ears (my own pair included), it’s all new. But relative obscurity is no excuse for repetition and stagnation. Perhaps, with the modest success of “The Whip” in mind, this band can move along from the same rotating set of songs and craft something fresh, or something as fresh as is possible in their homage-shackled genre of choice. There may even be a decent niche for Locksley’s music; those second-tier Hollywood movies aren’t going to sell themselves, after all.