Marc’s Golden Rule of music critique: Patience is usually rewarded. Regular readers know that when it comes to the music business, artistic growth and improvement will always catch our attention. Given the chance, a band that’s merely ‘okay’ today might break out next year, or even next decade, with a worthwhile release.
This is precisely what Philadelphia’s Flat Mary Road have accomplished with their latest record, Little Realities. Flat Mary Road’s music has retained a rolling pop-rock element for ten years together, even while disguised beneath porch-style Americana detours. Then Covid lockdowns flipped their songwriting trajectory from country-tinged rock to jangly, hook-laden power-pop, with a touch of Harry Chapin-style troubadour thrown in for good measure.
As vocalist Steve Teare told Magnet magazine last year, the annus horribilis of 2020 drastically altered Flat Mary Road’s course: “Like a lot of bands, we had recording plans that were derailed because of the early days of the pandemic. We were all set to enter a studio and get to work in March or April of 2020. While quarantining in the months leading up to the release of vaccinations, we wrote a lot of instrumental music and bedroom-pop songs that don’t quite fit with our usual setup.”
That year did indeed change everything, and not always for the better. But in this case, one can hear the difference, and the results are wonderful. We had to scour our music shelf to recall which legacy act Little Realities reminded us of so strongly. The answer? A largely forgotten late 1980s power pop band called Miracle Legion, particularly their 1992 release Drenched. Teare’s drawling vocals are a dead match for the Legion’s Mark Mulcahy. Miracle Legion followed a similar career path, spicing up their meandering country-rock sound to record a memorable and dynamic album. That same taste of Americana also lingers on Little Realities, lending a dose of dreamy rural motif to its grounded realism.
In that same Magnet interview, Teare explained that Realities’ songs were written at least three years ago. Fortunately, this time-lapse affects their appeal not at all. “Friends” is a jangling five-minute burst of adorableness, with a choral hook bordering on prime-era Stone Roses majesty. “This Summer’s” irresistible ‘flying away!’ chorus encourages the listener to do just that, while “The Grifter” teleports us back to post-punk’s glorious heyday with some raving yet pleasant swirls from Teare’s and Alex Lewis’ guitars. The seven-minute album closer “Landscape” is suitably mythological and ambitious, as all finales should be. As for miscues, Little Realities’ are minor and easily forgiven, deriving from some ill-advised lounge repetition on tracks like “Floating Song” and “Running the Tape Back”.
Despite hundreds of samples per month, this reviewer’s snooty new-music playlist remains nigh-impenetrable, locked up tighter than King Tut’s tomb. But alongside PYNKIE‘s Songies, Flat Mary Road’s latest is one of very few 2023 releases to invade our heavy rotation and stay put. Little Realities delivers bouncy, perky, endearing indie rock well worth repeated listens, not to mention a few hi-res bucks on Bandcamp.