El Sportivo and the Blooz play a soaring, laid-back kind of California pop-rock that is built around classic rock elements—passionate vocals, thumping rhythms, needle-sharp electric guitar lines, and lyrics that focus on declarations of love and angst about its inrequited nature. Album opener “Breaks My Heart” possesses these elements by the bucketful, and most of what follows does too. Although nothing terribly groundbreaking is on display here, there’s something to be said for familiar elements artfully arranged and skillfully displayed.
The good vibes continue as El Sportivo rattles through a series of warm, smooth-edged tracks: “Waking World” features some nifty pedal steel and harmony vocals, “The Night’s So Cold” and “Oh Lowe” bring the tempo down to an almost dirgelike pace, while “I Wanna Love You” introduces a fuller sound in the form of multiple guitar lines. This song almost sounds like an outtake from Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, and the vocal reference to “roll[ing] another number” makes that connection even stonger. Vocalist Daron Hollowell has a reedy, expressive voice reminiscent at times of Cracker’s David Lowrey, but unlike Lowrey he holds back on the irony and snark: the lyrics to such tunes as “The Night’s So Cold” and “I Wanna Love You” are almost painfully sincere.
A couple more songs—“Roll It to You” and “Underground”—keep to the same general tone and approach, even while the former piles on the layered guitar effects into a sort of pseudo-sitar, and the latter stretches its seven-plus minutes into a languid form of aural Silly Putty. At this point, two-thirds of the way through the record, a listener might be forgiven for wondering whether the “blooz” in El Sportivo and the Blooz is merely an empty promise. The answer to this is the blistering, twelve-and-a-half-minute epic “Darkening My Door”.
“Darkening My Door"is very much the tentpole of the album—its mere length demands that it be taken as such—and yet it’s so different from the rest of the tunes on display that the listener can’t help feeling a bit jarred. It’s also easily the best song here, which makes one wonder why there isn’t more such awesomeness on display. Built around a hypnotic piano rhythm and scratchy, swooping guitar licks, the song kicks into gear almost immediately, maintaining its tempo and edgy tone for the duration. Gone, suddenly, are the sweetly languid vocals, replaced by something more threatening: “I just kept on talking, and you didn’t know what to say / When the house is catching on fire, I’m just fanning those flames.” It’s the best sort of long jam: rather than simply meandering along, each chorus and solo break serves to add another element into the mix, building from an energetic beginning into a conclusion that tears along under its own irresistible momentum.
It’s tough to overstate the effect that this tune has given the context of what has come before. It’s as if a song by Mountain showed up on a Fleetwood Mac album. It’s a terrific tune, but I’m not sure it serves the band, or the album, particularly well; by being so much better than anything that has come before, “Darkening My Door” has the effect of rendering the previous set rather insipid.
The three songs that close out the album have the unenviable task of trying to measure up. Maybe one of them could have managed it—album closer “Blue” is melodic enough, and provides a nice comedown. But the other tracks just get lost.
El Sportivo and the Blooz certainly demonstrate some impressive chops on Nights & Weekends, but they need to find a way to incorporate their more laid-back material with their urgent, truly compelling stuff. Better still: find a way to come up with more compelling stuff a la “Darkening My Door”, and forget about the laid-back material altogether. The world already has plenty of mellow-rock bands. There is the potential for much more here.