Ex-Means singer Jason Frederick turns from blues-garage stomp to twitchy, sardonic pop.
You could probably write a whole column about why frontmen from hard-charging punk and rock bands usually end up doing something different after a while. Maybe it's all the yelling involved. Maybe they mellow. Maybe there's just so much anger you can express in one lifetime, and when it's over it's over. Whatever the reason, Jason Frederick of Chicago's Love Story in Blood Red has taken a sharp turn toward the pop with his new band, eschewing the garage-stomp of The Means to write twisted, scratchy-catchy love songs in the tradition of Spoon and Jonathan Richman.
Still Love Story in Blood Red's second album, oddly enough the band's second self-titled record, is hardly sensitive singer-songwriter material. Bristling barrages of abrasive guitars put an edge under album highlight "Please Why? (Short Stack)," while percussive band-sing-along choruses sweeten it. There's a husky vulnerability in Frederick's voice that is at odds with his swaggering, sardonic delivery. The lyrics are similarly poised between sentiment and sarcasm. "You're hip/you're critical/I see you roll your eyes/as I close mine," is about as precise a delineation of uneasy romance, as you'll find, cagey and self-protective and hoping for better.
Frederick's band includes Chicago-area sound whiz Kris Poulin on guitar (he also recorded the album), drummer Jim Duffy and Nick Meiers on bass. The band comes out of the same fertile pop scene as self-recorded Devin Davis, whose Lonely People of the World Unite! was a left-field highlight for 2005 -- and in fact Davis plays keyboards on a couple of tracks. The band hadn't been together for very long when these cuts were recorded, but they have a very loose, hard-driving sound.
There's more than a whiff of Elvis Costello here, particularly in "Mining"'s very "Mystery Dance"-ish organs, but also in the eighth-note guitar strafe of "Poor Dears." Still, it's one of the charms of this album that it's so hard to get a handle on. You're thinking new-wave, ironic pop, then they slip you the blues acoustic "I Met You." You've got a lock on the barebones Buddy Holly-ish riff from "Heaven Heaven" and then it heads into an exuberant everybody-join-in-now chorus. It's an early album from a promising band that could go in any number of directions -- and that in itself is exciting.