Provided it hasn’t already started, let’s call an official start to the Summer Music Season with the release of All Ears, All Eyes, All the Time, the latest from good-time pop-punkers Piebald. (And to our friends in Australia and all points sub-equatorial: Happy Winter Music Season!)
It’s obvious to anyone who doesn’t live in a cave, but it’s worth nothing anyways: Summertime demands (demands!) hooky guitars, big beats, and an overall sunny disposition as a soundtrack to barbecuing, beachgoing, and sunburning. Needless to say, All Ears provides those musical ingredients, and as an added bonus, places Piebald among the leading lights in the pop-punk category.
Piebald have always stood out in their crowded genre by crafting tunes that are light-hearted (not mopey), witty and clever. The trend continues on All Ears . Album opener “The Benefits of Ice Cream” marries Aaron Stuart’s bright, clean guitar lines to lyrics like “Hey, most pessimistic boy in L.A. / Have some ice cream and relax in the shade”. Singer Travis Shettel tackles his lyrics with an offbeat voice reminiscent of Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch—flat and a little reedy—and like Marsch, Shettel mastered the art of sounding naïve and confident all at once.
No where is that naïve/confident balance more in effect than on the album’s handful of piano-led numbers. There’s always something vaguely precious about piano pop, even on punky tunes like “Haven’t Tried It” or the strutting “Part of Your Body is Made Out of Rock” (the heart, you perv), but still, they’ll make you forget Ben Folds (if you haven’t done so already) and put imitators like Something Corporate to shame. The songs bounce along on Shettel’s manic energy, and if they’re not the best songs on the album (which they might be), they make you realize that Piebald love pop music and genuine pop craftsmanship.
But first and foremost, Piebald are a guitar band, and hooks spill out of the album on “Human Taste Test”, “The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships” (which is shorter and better than Troy), and “Get Old or Die Trying”. In a genre where guitar chops aren’t always put to their best use, Stuart’s an underrated axeman. More evidence can be found in the fuzzy guitar on the Shins-esque “Giving Cup” and “Get Old or Die Trying”‘s shredding solo, the latter of which may make you spill your beer at the BBQ while air-guitaring. (Yes, I realize that my attempt to marry this album to summertime fun is an increasingly labored exercise. Please excuse my hamhandedness and know this: All Ears is a summer album; like pornography, you just know it when you see/hear it.)
Less labored is the band’s breezy sense of humor, as evinced in all the song titles mentioned above. But taking this thought a step further, such titling bespeaks Piebald’s confidence (aaah, it all sorta does tie together!). Not every band can pull off a tune called “The Benefits of Ice Cream” and not have it lapse into novelty or juvenilia. It’s rare to find a band as young as Piebald (despite playing together for nearly a decade, everyone in the band is only in their mid-20s) knowing their strengths and playing at the peak of their powers, but that is the case with All Ears, All Eyes, All the Time.
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