Hello From Waveland are a firebrand of a live band -- dressed in vintage suits, the four-piece exudes more energy than most punk bands you could care to name, and do so with style and panache. Guitarist John Randolph used to have a bowl cut that made him look exactly like John Fogerty, and he shook that shit like it was the last time he'd ever have the chance to shake it. Singer/guitarist Mike Jaworski belts his lyrics into the mic with a passionate intensity, and has a sandpaper voice reminiscent of a cross between vintage Paul Westerberg and Jay Farrar of Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo. All the while, bassist Doran Bastin skulks around the stage, providing an interesting comparison to his more animated bandmates. And dammit, these guys rock, with the fervor of the aforementioned Paul Westerberg's old band at their finest mixed nicely with some classic pop moments, and a little twang around the edges.
The band recorded Strangeways by themselves, on a newly purchased computer. Now, if they had asked me, I would have said something like "get all y'all in a room together, make sure you've each got at least four beers in ya, and get somebody to press 'record'". That sort of bare-bones recording would, hopefully, have resulted in something that captured the ragged-ass intensity that these guys put out in their live show.
Of course, for someone who's never seen the band's live show, all this ranting is a load of nonsense. With nothing to compare it with, the question remains "did they make a good record?" And the answer is, well, yeah, they did. It might not be the record I wanted them to make, but it's pretty damn good nonetheless. Songs like "Powerless" and "Speaking4clapping" evoke an effortless, rootsy, crunchy vibe that is extremely addictive. "Powerless", in particular, stands out for Bastin's simple, loping bassline that holds the song together like aural krazy glue. Slower burners like "Deepest Lake" and "Trains and Earthquakes" are beautifully expressive, and showcase the full range of Jaworski's extremely impressive voice.
Other songs canvass the spectrum from the raucous, rowdy "Call to Complain" to the acoustic, introspective "Overnight Sensation". "Strange" is a waltz-like number, with Jaworski ruminating on a broken relationship: "grass used to be so green around here/that's when the sun was shinin'/now all it does is fuckin' rain around here/makes me feel like I am dyin'". Jaworski's songs are typically plainspoken, no-bullshit exercises, but his lyrics possess an unmatched resonance: "Our kisses taste like salt water from the tears down your face", he croons in "Trains and Earthquakes".
In the end, I will say this: Hello From Waveland are a great band. They exude a maturity and self-confidence that few "new" bands can match. They play with conviction, style and a tremendous amount of energy, and they write great songs. Given this, Strangeways could have been an awesome record. However, it's merely really good: its recording quality and less-than-live performances keep it from being truly great. However, it is still well worth purchasing, because in whatever form, you need these songs. So buy the record, listen to it, absorb it -- then see them live when they come to your town this fall and get yer ass blown off.