The High Speed Scene: self-titled

[3 May 2005]

By Jason MacNeil

The High Speed Scene are a three-piece band from California and are quite adept at perfecting the engaging pop that people like Matthew Sweet have done before them, and Big Star before Mr. Sweet. The legacy is one which results in very little monetary or commercial reward, but rather a growing fan base who will fight to the death to honor and spread the word of these groups. And so with this debut album, The High Speed Scene (who take their name from a 1971 cult film dubbed Two-Lane Blacktop) are trying to win the same hearts and minds that Sweet and company have previously done. Do they succeed? Well, they’ve won over N.E.R.D. who signed them to their own imprint on Interscope. But do they win you over? Well, reviews are sometimes like cliffhangers my dear, so keep reading…

Fronted by guitarist and singer Max Hart, the opening “For The Kids” talks about riding a BMX bike and giving a middle-finger salute to “the biz”. The song itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but the trio (rounded out by bassist Domen Vajevec and drummer Adam Aaronson) tend to have an urgency in them that isn’t found that often now. The track’s verses pay off with the raucous and yet tight chorus, and a hearty slab of classic riffs to keep you more than interested. Hart sings “You can’t fool the kids” while the tune glides along with far fewer safety nets than most bands use in production. This is basically very clean and clear rock and roll that was honed in a nice garage. “Assingear” (do you get it? Ass-in-gear, bruhahaha) is more of the same, albeit the melody is the first thing that reaches out and grabs you. And never has the term “ass-in-gear” been more lovable to sing or hum along to.

These nuggets might be forgettable to some, but once they get a hold of you, you’re simply stuck hitting the repeat or replay button, which is the way it is with “The IROC-Z Song”, although this tune has all the characteristics of what might be their equivalent to Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” (a very likable and catchy song from a band that is never heard from again). Hopefully this isn’t the case, although Hart refers to Taco Bell and Van Halen. It’s a simple 4/4 tune that again soars with a tight, infectious chorus. And it’s probably the highlight thus far. Unfortunately the slow-building and almost indie rock hue coloring “Hottie” doesn’t quite meld as the guitars are thrown together with a brief piano snippet before dragging through the chorus. This is where the song should accelerate, but instead goes back sonically to square one. The band tries to make up for it on the ending but it’s a case of too little too late.

The intensity and punk-meets-power pop is delivered in spades on “F**k & Spend” which comes across like Green Day in their Nimrod days. Hart is quite solid on this tune although the repetitive utterance of the title makes it more like an unfinished effort at less than 90 seconds; (and it isn’t hardcore punk enough to make those 90 seconds seem like a long time or fully crafted song). But the greatest of the lot is the Killers-cum-Franz Ferdinand high-octane retro rock dubbed “In The Know” which evokes images of Blondie and a manic Split Enz. Aaronson is also doing double time here thanks to his love of the hi-hat, much like Blondie’s Clem Burke. The momentum continues on the simplistic yet lovely “Hello Hello”, although it does pale to the previous tune.

The low point of the record has to be the melancholic and ordinary “Last Chance”, which seems to have no chance at all from the beginning. They try to get things going later, but by then it just is a waste of time. Thankfully though the meaty and edgier “All About It” has the group in a rocking mood but never quite working it into a frenzy or being over the top.

The High Speed Scene has several pluses, a few minus, but is fairly typical of a strong first effort.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/highspeedscene-st2005/