Several years ago, the Postelles seemed on the verge of exploding. An New York City foursome, they had a connection with Albert Hammond Jr. (the famous rhythm guitarist for the Strokes) and they were getting a lot of blog buzz. They put out The Postelles EP in 2008, which combined New York guitar lines with sugary sentiments and vocals that didn’t buy into the typical New York rocker’s apathetic cool. Their 2010 self-titled album built on the same structure. Postelles songs could be formulaic, but tracks like “Stella” and “Can’t Stand Still” were undeniable bursts of pop energy, tight little balls of guitar driven fun, easy to like. But despite all the comparisons with the Strokes, the Postelles didn’t experience the same kind of breakthrough.
Perhaps because of this, their recently released new album, ...And It Shook Me, works to distance the band a bit from their original sound, leaning more towards power-pop from the late ‘70s. It’s still recognizably the Postelles—the album contains 12 three-ish minute pop songs, and plenty of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. Things race along behind lead singer Daniel Balk’s innocent, pleasant voice. But the group has toned down the early rock and roll bubblegum influence. The “whoa-oh” doo-wop-esque vocals are mostly gone, and Balk sounds a little more seasoned, a little less guileless, straining and cracking and singing in a more full-throated fashion a few times. He reaches back to the Knack for a little vocal twitch, applying a “My Sharona”-like treatment to the ends of couplets as he sings in “Caught By Surprise”, sort of squeezing out “surprise” and “eyes” so they sound like “surpi-iiiise” and “eyeeeeees”, with a little jump in tone during the middle of the word. Sweet, sturdy harmonies pop up during the chorus of “Oh My Luck.” Female singers appear to handle backing vocals and add nice “ooh-oohs” during “Running Red Lights”. There’s also a duet with the singer Alex Winston on “Pretend It’s Love” to keep you guessing.
Similarly, the instrumentation hints at the Knack and Dwight Twilley’s loveable chugging. The Postelles also add a few touches of new-wave synthesizer on tracks like “Tidal Wave” and “Parallel Love” (the song that sounds most like something the Strokes might put together). At times the strumming rhythm guitar sounds acoustic, softening the songs’ punch. Every sound is scrubbed perfectly clean and sunny, as if distortion pedals have yet to be invented. The album’s middle third is particularly effective, as the band moves seamlessly from one easy riff and springy hook to the next. Even when love fails or things don’t work out, everything remains bubbly and upbeat. There’s even a bit of whistling. It’s music for optimists. The Postelles may not yet have reached the heights some predicted, but it doesn’t seem to have soured their outlook.