Glistening tight pop from a group caught between Philly and New York that would make Rivers Cuomo and Andy Partridge take note.
The Complete Strategist is a small band from eastern Pennsylvania but basically is the foundation for lead singer Billy Kilgannon to practice his tunes that pay homage to timeless power pop in the style of Weezer and, especially, XTC. Along with his three band mates, you think that he's trying to apply for some '70s-era FM band initially during "Pyrosis". Fortunately those three guys cut the light, Hidden Cameras-ish start and plug in and proverbially put out. The song follows the formula that has made Jimmy Eat World so damn successful, although there is a sweetness here found occasionally in other bands. The oddity has to be the rather bizarre tempo or time keeping of the drummer, who plays as if the CD itself has skipped or missed a beat or two. It's a shift that comes from leftfield and only a band like Sloan might be able to pull off without any head-shaking. After hearing this again 90 seconds in, it really throws the listener off, resembling a tune horribly spliced together.
This aberration aside, the band can deliver well-crafted gems such as "Ilend", which is dour and down-tempo. No curveballs are thrown here and the band nails the melancholic ditty exactly as it should be performed. The guitars come and go in the tune, at times brimming just under the surface. It atones for the previous good song gone haywire. "Patient With the Swiss Army" fits somewhere between the quality of the previous two tracks, its organ opening leading into a softer and gentle acoustic pop effort. "Raiders in the kin-country / Fostering ideas privately," Kilgannon sings and then lets the high harmonies settle in. But the drums add oh-so-much here, making it get its footing and then go with the flow. And a few "la la la" sing-a-longs certainly never hurt anyone. Think of a reunion track Haircut 100 might attempt and it should give you an idea. The electro-tinged coda isn't too tough to swallow as it peels the song down to its core and then build on top of it.
Perhaps "the" XTC track is "Albany" which has all the strengths and balances of Partridge and his merry men who never tour. The Complete Strategist uses everything to make the track work flawlessly, even if it's not as sweet as "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" or "Senses Working Overtime". Playful and brimming with a catchiness that is rarely bottled, the number begins to fade before gaining its second wind. "Get Outta Town!" is simply perfect planned power pop, a ditty that you know where it's going way ahead of time but still can't help but watch yourself glide into the tune with relative ease. It's also a perfect start for a long summer drive -- breezy but still packing oomph.
The second half starts with the somber and melancholic "I Was Silver", which doesn't quite hit the mark despite the strong vocals and rhythm section propelling things along. "Ro Jo" is a real puzzler whose sound is book-ended like a number by the Police before veering straight into an indie-meets-roots pop domain for the meatier, middle portion. Again the chorus is sheer gold yet the verses fall flat. The Complete Strategist has shown the listener what they can do, but they keep beating you over the head with its joyous results. Such is the case with "Anyone Stupid Enough" and its distant, shadowy vocals.
The Complete Strategist finishes up with "The Knowledge". It is a decent coda to this very pleasing, surprisingly well-crafted bucket of pop nuts and bolts.