Over the years, Athens, Georgia, has built a reputation for nurturing a variety of great musical talent. With acts such as R.E.M., the B-52’s, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and many others all hailing from the sleepy college town, there’s a natural level of curiosity to be had in speculating who within the scene might be next to reach some greater recognition.
One such ensemble hoping to make the cut are the Pendletons. With their namesake taken from Atlanta Braves third baseman Terry Pendleton — best known for winning the National League MVP award in 1991 — this young quartet of university friends cut their teeth opening for fellow Athenians the Whigs (now one of the more recent additions to the ATO label). Cycling through staple area venues like Tasty World and the 40-Watt Club, the Pendletons began garnering their own following with their sociable performances, at times providing free chicken wings at shows, or buying the entire bar a round of beer.
Of course, at the forefront is the music. On their charming debut album, Oh Me!, vocalist/guitarist Adam Saunders, lead guitarist Colin Moorhead, drummer Ben DuPriest, and bassist Matt Giordano formidably engage in the kind of hook-driven, garage-pop melodies that bring a light-footed bounce within even the most subdued twee listener. Instilled with an upbeat exuberance, the Pendletons deliver the kind of dance-tinged fits you’d like to picture Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang moving to if they had ever stopped bobbing and shuffling to Vince Guaraldi.
Right off the bat, opener “Not Gonna Stop” serves up an appropriate tone setter. Breaking in with feedback and a running high-hat percussion, the band crashes together for a formal introduction. As muted downbeats match Saunders’s emphatic pleas (“I’m not gonna stop / I’m not gonna stop / caring for you”) with staccato-like bursts, the track is meant to shake out the limbs and get circulation in all the right places. Even when the song finishes with the type of quickened-pace ending that wedding bands typically reserve to get one last frenetic romp out of its reception guests, it’s all just a warm-up.
Segueing from one pleasant shoe-shaker to the next is “Put That Record On”. With its twittering guitar melody and Saunders’s clever musings on the workday’s catatonic default setting and indifference (“It’s not the worker’s fault / You know that’s what he’ll say / It’s in his orders (in his orders) / But then who’s to blame cause when the thing went wrong no one told us (no one told us)”), the song’s feel-good chorus rallies for an escaping soundtrack. Calling out for something new to listen to, to “turn the music loud”, the track waves a flag of anti-seriousness, marching with trumpets, trombones, and a swing that puts the performance stage and dance-floor on the same level.
It is this particular approachability that makes Oh Me! the fun indie gem that it is. From the foot-stomping hook of “The Rent” (sounding like a clever hybrid of Modest Mouse’s “Float On” and Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out”) to the southern jam rocker “Sad Songs”, and the handclap-centered sing-a-long of “Upstate”, each one of the Pendletons’ songs feels like something casually coming out a practice session. Even when the band slows things down on the album’s woodblock-tapping title track and the sunny closer “On a Submarine”, there’s a specific affability to the band that warrants attendance at their next scheduled gig. Having recently finished a four-month tour that had the band confined geographically to the southeast (minus a daring excursion to New York City and CMJ ’07), here’s hoping that the next set of dates will bring them a little closer to everyone else.