According to Wikipedia, the city of Austin, Texas (located on the banks of the Colorado River; founded in 1835; named after the “Father of Texas”, Stephen F. Austin) has a population of just under 700,000. And that puts it 16th on the list of the largest cities in the United States. In other words, there are 15 American cities with bigger populations—and, therefore, bigger pools of potential musicians. But do you ever hear about the great new band from Columbus, Ohio? No. You don’t. Ever since it was put on the map by artists like Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson, Austin’s been punching above its weight, producing one great act after the other—the 13th Floor Elevators, Explosions in the Sky, Okkervil River, Spoon, Voxtrot, the Butthole Surfers—playing host to SXSW and Austin City Limits, and just generally hogging all the attention. And now, with the arrival of Peel, things are only going to get worse. What’s a city like Indianapolis to do?
The self-titled debut from Austin’s newest power pop quintet is filled with two- and three-minute tunes; straight-forward pop songs made rough around the edges with a healthy dose of distortion and the occasional random weirdness. Sure, it’s an approach we’ve heard before—gospel to bands like Pavement and those Elephant 6ers over in that other overachieving bastion of southern indie rock, Athens. But just because we’ve heard it before doesn’t mean it isn’t any good, and Peel have just the kind of raw contagious energy that you need to be able to pull it off.
A lot of that has do with the fact that they avoid repeating themselves within the strict confines of the three-minute pop song. Instead of an album full of eleven variations on essentially the same song, which you see more often than not, Peel have put together a collection of tracks distinct enough from each other that the listener is kept interested the whole way through. It opens with two excellent, catchy pop tunes (“Oxford” and “Bells”), but it’s not until the third track that you get to one of the record’s best. “In the City” is a full-out rocker with a shout-along chorus and a big, fat mess of distorted guitars. It’s immediately followed by the steel-guitar psychedelia of “Sliding Doors”, which traces Peel’s musical roots all the way back to the Beatles, by way of the Apples in Stereo, with a Strawberry Fields-y organ buried under their usual grungy surface. Topped off with a ridiculously catchy refrain at the end of the song—“Gonna start living the right way / I’m setting my mind on Sunday”, they belt out under swirling guitars—it challenges for the title of the Album’s Best Track. And just a moment later, they launch directly into their most dance-friendly tune, with lead vocal duties passing to one of the girls for the stilted synth-romp “Workers, Wake Up!”. Toss in the pocket-sized rager “Moxy Blues” and the more acoustic-based “Love Soaked in Blood” and the band manages to keep things fresh and interesting the whole way through the record.
It all makes for what is sure to be one of the best power pop albums of the year. Peel may not be strikingly original or groundbreaking, but they are a hell of a lot of catchy fun. It’s just a shame that on top of that, they’re yet another feather in the cap of Austin, Texas—a city that already has way more than its fair share. I mean, really, it’s getting ridiculous. Who says Austin gets all the great bands? When is it going to be Jacksonville’s turn?
// Notes from the Road
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