The Hard Lessons: B & G Sides Vol. 1

[17 January 2008]

By Stuart Henderson

PopMatters Features Editor

At seven minutes and two seconds, this EP shot from Detroit’s the Hard Lessons won’t be changing the world. But it may change theirs. These successors to tourmates OK Go make fast, catchy power pop that will inspire both roadtrip singalongs and serious ambivalence from hipsters. But, of course, it’s the first half of that equation that counts for radio play. 

Following a brief vocals-only intro (“The Painter”), the Hard Lessons offer two tracks on this EP: one flawless pop tune, replete with harmonies, relentlessly catchy melodies, and crisp, tight production, and, well, a second song that isn’t all that interesting but is equally slick. Despite their press release’s insistence that theirs is “not the kind of rock music that plays during beer commercials or in the background at party scenes in bad movies”, I defy you NOT to hear them as the soundtrack for precisely those visuals. Defensive much?

A pair of male and female lead singers (“Augie” and “Ko Ko”, respectively) share songwriting duties here, each offering a gendered perspective on the scene with their track. The first, Augie’s “See and Be Scene”, is a nearly perfect pop song. It has the melody, the swagger, and the right amount of instant accessibility to hit just about everyone in the right place. It’s sort of like the New Pornographers without the thrillingly BIG ideas. Still, if the lyrics are a bit obvious, and the arrangement a bit predictable, all the better for a monster hit, no? You’ll probably hear this one soon (in the background at a bad scene in a party movie?).

The second track is much less immediately affecting, and even after repeated listens remains a fairly forgettable piece of generic rock. “This song is for you”, sings Ko Ko in the slow-building opening. “Now please listen to all of the lessons I’ve learned”. Then she offers really no lessons, save “don’t shake my tree”. Where “See and Be Scene” was infectious and irresistible, “Don’t Shake My Tree” is wrangy and, well, reach-for-the-dial.

I guess the big question here is: Does anyone actually go to the store and buy singles anymore? Or EPs in hard copy? I dunno, but I sure don’t, and won’t.

Meanwhile, the Hard Lessons have devised this promotional scheme whereby they will release a batch of these “volumes” of singles and tracks over the next few months. They make a lot of noise in their press release about how this will “make record collecting fun again”. The worthiness of this pursuit is debatable. One thing that isn’t debatable is that this amounts to a lot of packaging for a series of seven-minute throwaway experiences that everyone will surely still just download onto their iPods.

Sorry, folks, fire your marketing guys.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/the-hard-lessons-b-g-sides-vol-1/