A lot of pop-punk albums cross my desk, but a rare few stick out -- this is one of them.
When Green Day and Weezer broke out in 1994, thousands of suburban kids picked up their guitars, learned three chords and started bands of their own. Green Day, over their next four albums, would expand their palette, culminating in this year's opus American Idiot, which cemented their standing as the genre's kings, but positioned them as sophisticated songwriters. Weezer, on the other hand, have struggled to maintain the freshness they displayed on their debut. Though a commercial flop, Pinkerton won over a legion of new fans with its distinctly fractured pop awash in distorted guitars. It was the sensitive counterpart to the band's aggressive debut and a strong signal that Weezer were much more than "Buddy Holly". Unfortunately, their follow-up albums Green and Maladroit found the band retreading a watered down version of the pop punk of their first album and worse, becoming a parody of their former selves.
There's no doubt that Reeve Oliver take their influences from the aforementioned bands; however, this is not another three chord punk band. Their self-titled debut album is a project five years in the making, and the consideration and planning are evident. Combining the smart writing of latter-day Green Day and energy of early Weezer material, Reeve Oliver stand poised to grab the alternative radio crown from the likes of Foo Fighters and Jimmy Eat World.
The band's brain trust lies in the hands of singer/songwriter/producer Sean O'Donnell. Initially started as a solo project, it eventually evolved into a band. O'Donnell's skills on the faders are as strong as they are on the guitar, and their debut album sounds fantastic. Dynamic, clean, yet still packing a helluva punch, this album got this curmudgeonly critic's toes tapping.
The opening strains of the band's first single, "I Want Burns", are deceptive. With an earnestly strummed guitar and O'Donnell's soft vocals, I braced myself for another over-emotive Dashboard Confessional wannabee. Instead, the song kicks into high gear with a ridiculously poppy hook that soars into a triumphant chorus. Elsewhere "On the Floor" could be the single that breaks the band into the mainstream. Furious stop-start guitars conjure up early Nirvana, while the chorus screams a more mature Simple Plan. "Reevenge" -- the best song on the disc - displays O'Donnell's strong vocals, particularly in the latter half of the song, which has him yelling over some wonderful chiming guitars.
What makes Reeve Oliver stand up among the cream of the crop are the small details dropped throughout the production of the album. The six-minute opus "Your Own Private Ice Age" ends with forty seconds of nicely crafted atmosphere that, though borrowing liberally from Radiohead's "Fitter Happier", maintains a personality of its own, and serves as a nice segue into "On the Floor". "Inhale, Exhale" is even bolder, ending with nearly two minutes of moody pianos and sampled bird sounds. And though this tactic isn't completely successful, that willingness to include this sort of experimentation marks Reeve Oliver -- on their first album already -- ready to move out of the acceptable boundaries of the genre.
A lot of pop-punk albums cross my desk, but a rare few stick out -- this is one of them. O'Donnell has assembled an exceptionally talented group of musicians, and has written and produced an album to not only be proud of, but which deserves any and all of the attention it gets. If it takes another five years for Reeve Oliver to write their next album, it will be fine by me if it's anywhere near as good as their remarkably strong debut.