Pela’s debut album Anytown Graffiti is one of the more eagerly anticipated releases of the year. Known for their awesome live shows and two well-received EPs, Pela has finally put out a full-length release. It is one of the year’s best. Pela are a self-styled “American” rock and roll band, with Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, Wilco, and the Hold Steady as guiding influences. That is quite a serious lineage to follow and to compare oneself to. Yet the ambition in those comparisons is more than met by the music, which is charming, humble, passionate, and achingly sad all at once.
It all starts with lead singer Billy McCarthy’s voice; it is gruff and harsh, but contains hints of softness. It shines on “Tenement Teeth”, where his screams of “it’s only love” cut right through the driving melody. The voice has variety; stern and thoughtful on “Anytown Graffiti”, quiet but urgent on “Lost to the Lonesome”. It always perfectly complements the music, whose melodies propel forward with heavy bass lines and powerful drumming. This is a good rock and roll band.
Themes of escape and angst permeate the album. “Your Desert’s not a Desert at All” contains the plaintive cry of “call me if you want to break out.” “Anytown Graffiti” revels in the themes of boredom and the open road. McCarthy sings “Get in this car and get out of this place” with a tone of hope, but the listener gets the feeling from his voice that it might never happen. These songs conjure up images of suburban loneliness and the desire for something better.
Other themes come out as well. “Cavalry” tells a story of an army in battle, but it is compelling because of its orchestral chorus, which creates an overarching sense of courage and valor. On “The Song Writes Itself”, McCarthy sings “the days just roll by” with the sadness that those words truly carry. The last track “7th and 17th” closes out the album with a lonely guitar and some ambient noise in the background, letting the listener breathe after the torrent that has come before.
In the end, the listener understands why the band considers itself so “American”. Every song captures a little slice of American life, from the dullness of the small city to the lofty vision of war to the big dreams of those stuck in limbo. Every song has an elegiac, wistful feel. The band has built up a mythology of four lonely wanderers living the “American” life. The story is a little trite, but the music is powerful enough for you to buy into it. The listener may not understand America from this album, but he or she will certainly feel it.