The M’s are the latest in what’s turning out to be a very fruitful crop of retro, garage rock bands hailing from Chicago. The young men in The Redwalls have the Beatles thing down perfectly, The Ponys prefer to tackle The Stooges on their fantastic debut album, but as for The M’s, well, their sound is a bit more difficult to pin down, which is their best quality. The quartet, comprised of singers/guitarists Josh Chicoine and Robert Hicks, singer/bassist Joey King, and drummer Steve Versaw, immediately bear a strong resemblance to Canadian rockers Sloan, with the way they don’t have one single frontman, the band members trading lead vocals, the layers of harmony vocals, and most importantly, a wide range of musical styles to draw their sound from. However, while Sloan today sounds like a band who has completely run out of new ideas, The M’s sound fresh and ready to take on the world.
Their self-titled debut album, actually a combination of what was originally intended to be four separate EPs, mines the best sounds of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but like the best of the new garage rock bands, instead of creating an empty-headed collection of stolen riffs, The M’s inject heavy doses of energy, wit, and songwriting skill that makes this more than just another retro retread. Recorded in a makeshift basement studio in the apartment that King, Hicks, and Versaw share, this album is one of those instances where an ambitious young band tries their damndest to put out a big sounding rock ‘n’ roll record, doing whatever it takes, seeing how good an album they could piece together with what limited technology was at their disposal. It’s a time-honored process, one that’s been done countless times, but as is nearly always the case, The M’s have pulled it off very well on what is a very good first album.
The first four tracks on The M’s, which also appear in the same order on their original debut EP, set the stage, showing just how fun and clever a band they are. The slinky “Dirty Old Dog” opens with a lead guitar lick that bears the subtlest of similarities to The Beatles’ “I Want to Tell You”, before veering off straight into glam rock territory, the layered lead vocals closely resembling T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, the band settling into a relaxed, spaced-out groove. “Banishment of Love” kicks off with a muscular guitar riff, the type of Southern rock-inspired glam lick you’d hear from Mick Ronson, as the song continues in a Bowie-esque direction, name-checking Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love”, the lead vocals taking on a falsetto quality, sounding like John Lennon circa The White Album. The facetious, lumbering “Big Baby Bottoms” is a straight-out, midtempo rock stomp which segues right into “Break Our Bones”, which works essentially as a coda to the previous track, as the song rockets skyward, the harmony vocals carrying the melody higher and higher.
Meanwhile, on the more recent tracks that make up the rest of the album, the simple “2x2” boasts a great Kinks riff, as the band tears into the song ferociously like Blur once did whan Graham Coxon was still with them, while the fabulous, mellow “Riverside” sounds like a homage to George Harrison’s early solo material. Both “Maggie” and “There is Work” are terrific, simple little rock tunes that are loaded with British Invasion influences (again, namely, The Kinks), similar to what Swedish rock standouts Mando Diao are doing at the moment. The dreamy, optimistic “Holdin’ Up” is so catchy and fun, it sounds like it would be a perfect fit on The Flaming Lips’ great Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, and the ambitious “The End is Still an A” continues in a similar direction, as the band employs hints of drum machine and tape loops.
At one point, someone (I don’t know who, it’s never revealed who exactly sings what on this record) sings, “We’ll go where no one’s ever gone before, we’ll go where no one dares.” Well, The M’s are currently treading on familiar territory, but there are hints that this great young band is ready to make some big strides on their next album. They’re obviously too talented not to.