Kids Raising Kids, the Kopecky Family Band’s debut LP, is a ponderous affair, given on the one hand to soaring, anthemic rock and on the other to atmospheric, glassy-eyed navelgazing. Had Phil Spector been high on Dilaudid, the Wall of Sound might very well have come out sounding like this. That may seem like a pejorative assessment, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. On this album’s better moments, the effect is both fresh and familiar.
The lead track, “Wandering Eyes”, is as good a pop/rock record as you could ever hope to hear. It opens with boozy, dirge-like horns and strings, harbingers of the weird things to come. Then the drums come in with the guitar not far behind, ripping out a simple, snaky riff. The voices, layered and drenched in echo, break out of the gate and straight into the chorus (“Oh! / My wandering eyes / Nothing’s going to take me by surprise!”—yes, please), and make good on the track’s promise. It’s a menacing gem of a number, and it sets a high standard for the rest of the album.
The next track maintains the momentum, starting with fingers snapping out a beat that recalls “Be My Baby”. The attack here is more restrained, with the rhythm section laying down a very nice rubbery groove. The chorus slams home with fuzzy guitars and booming drums and the singers offering up yet another winningly simple lyrical hook (“And I don’t know, know, I don’t know what I can do for you / You make my heart beat, beat, heart beat like a drum for you”). To prevent things from getting too sticky sweet, there’s a dark, bizarre instrumental break after the two-minute mark that underscores the troubling obsessiveness that lies at the heart of the song’s lyrics. Another winner, and we’re two-for-two at this point. We could be looking at a great album.
Regrettably, the Kopecky Family Band does not sustain the same level of quality across the whole album. “My Way” is compromised by a forced structural gimmick—moody, ambient verses give way to a blustering, clumsy chorus. The band regains its footing with “Are You Serious” and doesn’t give away the game with “The Glow”, a somewhat more successful take on the dynamic shifts attempted in “My Way”. “Change” is graced with an aching, plaintive lead vocal and some excellent, sympathetic harmonies.
These tracks, good as they may be, are modest successes. What’s needed at this point is a track equal to the one-two punch of “Wandering Eyes” and Heartbeat”. “She’s the One” is almost that track, but because the song’s chorus doesn’t provide the requisite musical peak, it fails to match the openers for intensity or impact. “Waves” is competent at best (though lyrics like “Oh, sacred sea, take off your coat / Now that I’m here, you’ll never be alone” test a listener’s patience) and “Angry Eyes” again suffers from an awkward verse-to-chorus transition. “Ella”, a slice of sunny, straightforward pop, is pleasant enough and would have fared better if it hadn’t been placed at the end of an album back-loaded with so-so songs.
None of this sounds bad while it’s playing. The album is both commendably varied and sonically of a piece, which is no easy feat. It’s clear that the Kopecky Family Band has ambition, and while its reach exceeds its grasp more often than not on Kids Raising Kids, this is definitely a group worth keeping an eye on. Here’s hoping the band ups the ante with its sophomore effort. And in the meantime, “Wandering Eyes” and “Heartbeat” belong somewhere on your summer playlist.
// Notes from the Road
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