[21 November 2011]
For a city that has over 50 colleges, including Berklee (one the world’s most esteemed music schools), as well as an endless assortment of legendary clubs, theaters, and music halls, Boston can be a surprisingly unforgiving city to an up-and-coming band. Sure, any kid who can play a couple of chords can easily find him or herself a gig in Boston, and they might even work their way up to a headlining Friday night slot at the Paradise or the Middle East. After living in the city for 16 years, I’ve learned that finding success outside of Boston means leaving Boston. Once-local bands like Passion Pit and Ra Ra Riot traded Allston for Williamsburg the second their names showed up on the buzz blotter. Seven years ago, you could walk into the sorely missed Marty’s Liquors and purchase a delicious deli sandwich made by either Hooray for Earth’s Noel Heroux or Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr., depending on the day. Heroux and Lewis scraped it out for years in Boston to little avail. Then they moved to NYC. Now they’re everywhere.
Boston quintet The Hush Now have been on the circuit for a few years now, but on Memos, their third full-length album in three years, the band sounds like they’re itching for a chance to compete on the national level. Working with ace local producer Benny Grotto, the band trades the indie pop aesthetic of earlier releases for a polished, arena-ready sound that’s a perfect match for this set of massive, hook-heavy songs. Guided by singer and chief songwriter Noel Kelly’s velvety croon, The Hush Now often sound like a turbo-charged local version of The Smiths here, minus the melancholy.
Memos wastes little time announcing its intentions. Opener and leadoff single “Arkansas” rides twinkling piano and ringing guitars toward a million-watt chorus, the first of many. Listeners will be pinned to their seats by “Clouds”, a giddy head rush of a song that’s powered by Barry Marino’s relentless drumming. The pace slows temporarily for the airy title track, which finds guitarist Adam Quane doing his best Johnny Marr, before “Cameraphone” comes swaggering along with a delicious, searing synth lick and a positively orgiastic vocal turn from Kelly. I’m not sure if the late ‘90s club jam “The Glow” is supposed to be taken literally, but it sure is a lot of fun after the initial shock wears off.
While there’s no shortage of finely crafted pop here, it’s the jazzy, nocturnal ballad “Sitting on a Slow Clock” that provides the album with its emotional centerpiece. With its gorgeous melody, whispered vocals, and delightfully off-kilter trumpet solo, “Clock” is the sort of song you wish you could hear at last call after a long wintry evening spent in some Brooklyn bar. The song speaks volumes to the band’s versatility as musicians and songwriters, which makes one eager to hear what the band will come up with next.
Unfortunately, the album runs out of steam at the halfway mark. The shoegaze-y “Pete’s Best” makes a lasting impression, yet “Things Fall Down” is a ho-hum conclusion to an otherwise exciting album. Ultimately, with Memos, The Hush Now succeed in reaching wide without overreaching. If they can hop on the Fung Wah Bus and take their unapologetically grandiose sound outside of the Route 128 corridor, they should have no problem competing in the big leagues.