I have a confession to make: I’m completely and utterly addicted to this CD. It didn’t start this way — I didn’t expect to be so taken in by this modest little pop platter. The press sheet proclaims “sure to land on many critics’ best-of-the-year lists”, and I think to myself “suuuure it will”. However, for once, the label folks may not be too far off the mark — this disc has a way of getting under your skin and putting itself on infinite repeat in your brain until you can’t stand it anymore and you just have to hear “Blindfold Follies” or “Dance Floor Flirt” just one more time.
For a quick description of the Maroons’ sound, think of Elliott Smith’s delicate, hushed songcraft (circa Either/Or) on a collision course with Jason Falkner’s robust, shiny, exquisitely rendered power pop. The Smith comparison makes sense, because singer/songwriter Jon Moen used to be his drummer. However, with this release, the multitalented Moen steps out from the Disheveled One’s shadow, and I dare say even manages to one-up him.
At first, Moen’s sugar-sweet vocal stylings got on my nerves; usually I like my pop injected with a little more piss and vinegar than the flavor that The Maroons offer. However, something told me to keep listening, keep listening, and it wasn’t long before a few of these songs were permanently etched into the folds of my gray matter. Songs like the utterly infections title track, the wistful “Lonely Summer”, the very Beatlesque “Blindfold Follies”, and the jubilant, rocking “9 ½” simply have that je ne sais quoi that elevates them way, waay above the average power-pop confection. It could be the obvious skill that went into crafting these gems; it could be the fact that while they all mine similar territory, none of these songs sound too much alike; it could just be the utterly infectious vocal melodies and hooks a-plenty that riddle this album.
To be fair, there are a few instances where the band sinks into a syrupy mire. The main offender in this respect is “Can You Feel”, whose vocal melody is cloying rather than addictive, and grates on the nerves a bit. Also, the record loses some of its teeth toward its end — rather than going out with a bang, it sort of peters out with two of the slower, less engaging tracks on the whole record, “Kevin’s” and “The Lori Commission”. However, in their own right, these songs are really just fine, and it’s mainly their placement at the end of the disc that I take issue with rather than the songs themselves.
However, these complaints are piddling in the face of a record that gets it just about 95% right, and despite my initial reservations, this band has me completely converted. The Maroons have created a modest, image-free yet indubitably fantastic pop record in an age where some folks are debating whether or not that’s even still possible. Moen’s songs reveal new secrets with each listen; they’re arranged beautifully, and are simply watertight in every respect. Although it remains to be seen whether or not it will actually land in my top 10 at year’s end, the possibility that it will is much more likely than I had originally expected.