It's another indie-pop band with an affection for catchy guitar riffs and synthesizers, but Bridges and Powerlines also bring good songwriting to the table.
Bridges and Powerlines' debut album Ghost Types is a collection of songs about growing up, specifically the transition from boy (or teen) to man. Here, however, the characters in the songs are all over the map in terms of ethnicity, era, and profession -- at least according to the press kit. With that description, it sounds like this band would have a lot in common with The Decemberists. But the characterizations in the lyrics of Ghost Types are rarely as specific as the band's own press would have you believe. And musically Bridges and Powerlines has none of the old world, 19th-century trapping of Colin Meloy's band. Instead, they have an accessible indie-pop sound and a well-written, well-produced disc to go with it.
The album opens with a wash of Moog keyboards and a steady snare drum pulse, immediately bringing to mind that brief mid-'90s period when The Rentals and The Moog Cookbook made that brand of synthesizer cool. Once Andrew Wood starts singing, though, the retro feel mostly disappears. His voice is clear and tends toward the higher register, and "Uncalibrated" turns out to be a catchy, thoroughly modern pop song. Wherever that nebulous line is that separates '90s alt-rock from '00s indie-pop (it probably involves the guitars not having to be crunchy all the time), Bridges and Powerlines is working firmly on the 21st century side of things.
The band, with Wood on keyboards and lead vocals, Keith Sigel on bass, guitarist John Crockett, and drummer Pete Mucek, has strong chemistry. They lock in well together and have a keen sense of the ebb and flow of a three-and-a-half minute pop tune. The rhythm section knows when to build and back off. Mucek tends to alternate from grooves that take advantage of his whole drumset to steady snare and bass drum beats that propel the songs towards or through the chorus. Sigel's bass works in a similar capacity, riding along with Mucek's grooves or accentuating the chord changes. Meanwhile, Crockett's guitar playing is mostly understated, trading off riffs and chords with Wood's keyboards. Wood uses a variety of sounds throughout the album, from tinkling toy pianos to heavy electro synths, and those sounds always seem to blend well within each particular song.
"The Golden Age" is probably the best tune here, with a melody that sounds straight out of the early '70s backed by sweet harmonies and a galloping beat. The rest of the album ranges from the easygoing pop of "Ghost Types" to the bouncy "The Middle Child", which again makes great use of that distinctive Moog sound. The quieter, mostly instrumental "The Great Fire" builds for nearly three minutes until it opens into an irresistible melody mirrored in the guitar, keyboards, and in "oooh"ing vocals.
Really, Bridges and Powerlines isn't breaking any new ground, but they seem to work very well together. Where they really shine is in the songwriting and arranging departments. Their songs sound distinct from one another while staying in the same basic indie-pop vein, yet they don't seem overly concerned with fitting everything into a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. Ghost Types is a solid, catchy debut that may portend greater things down the road for these guys.