The Kopecky Family band arrived on the indie rock scene in the fall of 2012 with their surprise debut album Kids Raising Kids . After first receiving attention from acclaimed “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen while attending the CMJ festival in 2010, the band began to see favorable reviews from such esteemed outlets as the New York Times, Last.fm, and WXPN.
All this attention, paired with a record deal from ATO Records, led to a quick ascension. With all this growing attention, it may seem strange that the band decided last year to switch things up and drop the “Family Band” and become simply, Kopecky.
This is not to say that Kelsey Kopecky, the lead vocalist and founding member of the group, suddenly and unceremoniously cut out her loving family. The family band portion of the title wasn’t literal, and in a conversation with David Dye on NPR’s “The World Café”, Kopecky and fellow founder Gabe Simon explained this kind of confusion was one of the main reasons for the name change. They felt that the family band made them sound like a sort of hippie outlet, which they felt misrepresented the music they were setting out to make.
So how would the name-change, along with growing popularity, change the band from a musical perspective as they move into their second album, Drug for the Modern Age? Well the answer is, not much.
Kopecky first gained radio-play with the single, “Heartbeat”, which showed off their ability to be instantly catchy in a way that seemed fresh and innovative. Where their first album showed merely glimpses of pop sensibility, Drug for the Modern Age shows they are able to repeat this feat over and over again, almost to a fault.
There are number of radio-friendly, indie-pop tracks on the record but the foremost is the band’s chosen single, “Quarterback”. As is with nearly every song on the record the chorus and guitar hook are instantly infectious. Merely a few listens will have you singing along and keeping the steady beat as you toe-tap through the tight, three-minute single.
The lyrical content, which focuses on the juvenile notion of a man lying to a pretty girl about being a quarterback, is a bit too artificial, but ultimately that’s not really what matters. The record is full of these kind of songs which work as indie-pop songs, but have no greater depth than the surface level introspection.
The vocals are shared almost evenly between Kopecky and Simon who actually show a great amount of range as centerpieces of their respective songs, though almost each song sees at least a little bit of harmonization. As with the album as a whole, the tracks that work best for Simon and Kopecky are the ones in which they seem to be traveling furthest from their well-established comfort zones. Sure, they can be the part Hey Marseilles, part Head and the Heart style that has undoubtedly worked for them thus far, but taking chances is what really helps a band like Kopecky become a lasting band and not this year’s flavor.
“Thrill” sees Kopecky move out of the pop-formulated pitch of early songs like, “My Love” and “Better Luck Next Time”. She lowers her voice a few octaves, taking on a sultry half-whisper that resembles Lana Del Ray. The track strips down some of the window-dressing and lets the listener hear how skilled this group, with its multi-instrumentalists, can be when each given there space. The saxophone bridge that arrives in the latter third of the song may be the most surprising and enjoyable instrumental portions of Drug for the Modern Age.
Simon’s “Vancouver” is the first glimpse we get of a change in tone from the male side of the vocal duo. The reverb heavy guitar and vocals along with Simon’s more bluesy delivery gives the track a definitive Black Keys feel without straying too far from the distinctive Kopecky sound as to avoid forced imitation.
It is worth noting that these tracks, as well as “Natural Selection” and the title song, “Drug for the Modern Age”, are all on the second half of the album. It is likely not a coincidence that these are also the first glimpses we get of a group willing to take some stylistic chances. It is as if they spent the first half of Drug for the Modern Age satisfying some kind of pop quota and only then were able to play freely with their talented groups wide aesthetic and skill.
This idea is the crux of both what works and what doesn’t work in this sophomore album, and that’s okay seeing as they are a band very much still finding there place in the indie world. Kopecky is beginning to make a name for itself in the indie music landscape, but they must resist going to the well too many times, no matter how fruitful that strategy is initially. Ultimately, the band’s ability to keep things fresh will be the critical test as to whether they will have lasting success.