After the instrumental reverie of their previous disc, Solitude, it was inevitable that The Volebeats return to the Beatles-influenced country rock and pop sound of Sky and the Ocean, and this time out does indeed find the Detroit, Michigan band trolling Jayhawks and Wilco-style through various strains of harmony-driven music. They may have a way to go to escape the influences that got them here, but the journey is getting more interesting with each passing album.
The Volebeats have always mined a wide cross-section of American music for their inspiration. “Radio Flyer” opens the album with an almost Paisley Underground sound that is repeated on “Tether”, echoing classic Rain Parade or the eastern version offered up by The Windbreakers and Chris Stamey, among others. Some country elements are still evident, as on “I Tried to Tell You”, with a mournful steel guitar in the background. The reverb-drenched “First Love Never Dies” manages to evoke both Marty Robbins and Roy Orbison, and they even offer their take on the Beach Boys with the appropriately titled “I Just Want Someone to Love (For the Summer)”.
The strength of the band has always been their vocal harmonies, and they are in full force here on such upbeat pop tunes as “Feel The Same”, “I Don’t Want to Cry Tonight”, and “Voles in NYC”, which has a propulsive feel not unlike The Walkabouts, including the “Ba ba ba ba” chorus. The Hollies are a common reference for bands with decent harmonies, and consciously or not, there’s a song here called “Bus Stop”. True to the band’s unpredictable nature, it isn’t the hit of the same name, but a mellow weeper.
Never really distinctive enough to garner more than a critical nod or two for their impeccable taste in choosing their sound and presenting the songs, The Volebeats may still be less than the sum of their influences that they wear all-too-perceptibly on their record sleeves. That doesn’t make this a bad album, just one that fails to leave much of an impression past that initial sting of recognition.