The Sidekicks Go in a Power Pop Direction on 'Happiness Hours'
The Sidekicks have made a wonderful power-pop record about the good stuff in life, but they acknowledge the sour stuff as well. It's nostalgia with a smirk.
18 May 2018
Pop music is purely for pleasure, right? It's meant to placate the nerves, smooth out the edges of a grungy day, make you pop your shoulders in the car. I mean, that's what I think about when I hear the word 'pop'. The Sidekicks, a rock band that has slowly evolved from aggressive punk into power-pop, would probably agree. Happiness Hours, the group's new release, is the spray of a cool wave on a hot day, the breaking of the sun on a grey day, or the laugh in spite of sadness. Don't let the title and fluorescent album cover set you too far in the wrong direction though. It's not just about the good stuff. It's about the growth that led to the good stuff as well. It's nostalgia with a smirk.
As it is, growth is the band's style. Frontman Steve Ciolek says, "I think the expectation with our records is that it's going to be something that you're going to have to sit with and it's going to be different than the last one, and there's going to be new things there." He's mostly right. In the big picture they have stayed strictly in the guitar/bass/drums rock world, but in the smaller picture, they have transformed heavily. Starting out as basement punk band, with yelling, distorted vocals and all, they have ended up not too far from the intricate yet powerful compositions of Nick Lowe in his prime. The guitars here don't thud or shred; they chime and yield.
Happiness Hours is a guitar record, by the way. From the all-out-assault kick-off of the opener "Other People's Pets", guitars lead the way. It reminds me of Jay Som's Everybody Works in that way, as a guitar is usually just part of the tapestry, but not here. When the intro of "Weed Tent" begins to sway, I defy you not to smile or grin or bob your head. On "Twin's Twist", the guitars seem to chug and then to fly behind the vocalist, moving the narrative forward appropriately. On closer, "Happiness Hours", the guitars build from an acoustic strum to ringing and it just simply makes the song work. It's the simple pleasures sometimes, and the Sidekicks know the simple pleasure of the guitar for sure.
And pleasure is a theme here. The lyrics explore the journeys both towards and away from it. Some songs like "Mix For a Rainy Day" and "Don't Feel Like Dancing" explore the old joy, where old loves and beloved songs get lodged in your head and your heart. It's a dissection of the bittersweet. Elsewhere, like on "Twin's Twist" and "Win Affection", Ciolek sings about the attempts and stumbles in search of the good stuff in life. "Twin's Twist" finds the singer breaking down someone else "masking a moment with a happiness hour" while "Win Affection" finds him mimicking a former lover's current lover's hair part "just to subconsciously draw your attention to an arbitrary aspect of attraction".
It's not all searching and sour grapes. It's also about acceptance. On "Medium in the Middle" our narrator is eating corn flakes at a party and does a spit-take when offered illegal party favors. "No thanks. No, it's not lame," he states. It's the most glorious moment on a great record, and it's great because it's specific and it's real. Sidekicks aren't feigning anything here. They are a power-pop band singing about what they know about: their lives. That's fine. It's just pop music. It's just for fun, right?