Atlanta has a seeming wealth of young up-and-coming bands and songwriters who are talented and musically adventurous, but many of them offer such precious little output — a short EP here, a quick 7-inch there — that it’s often difficult to gauge whether the praise they’ve garnered is the result of some exceptional artistic gift or merely fortunate accident. After all, the line of local bands that have been able to craft a solid song or two before fading away forever could probably stretch from here to the moon. For a new band starting out inspiration and authenticity are definitely crucial, but if you’re taking the long view, consistency of quality is the key.
And it’s precisely this type of consistency that makes the sophomore full-length from Imagination Head so remarkable. Straddling the line between the Decemberists’ prog-folk and hazy Elephant 6-style psych-pop, On/Off arrives so coherent and complete it’s difficult to believe it’s the work of a group who just a few short weeks ago was scarcely known even here in its hometown. You can credit much of that feeling of completeness to frontman J.R. Wicker who subtly wrings out everything he can from these 14 songs, delivering his smart tongue-in-cheek lyrics so nonchalantly that you almost overlook they’re encased deep in masterful pop surroundings. Despite its diverse instrumentation — an array of guitars, piano, keyboards, xylophone, even a sitar make their appearance here — each note is in just the right place, every passage and transition meticulously sculpted from the taut classic rock riffs on “Shattered Diamond” to the intricate vocal harmonies of “Tomorrow’s Garden” and “Christmas Trees On Fire.” And, yet, there remains throughout a playful sense of spontaneity and a breezy vivacity that keeps the music from coming off as too polished or pretentious. On/Off is an album awash in rich detail, but never do the individual elements distract or take away from the essence of the album as a single unified piece of music.
Had this record been released a dozen years ago, it would have fit quite comfortably alongside works from Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo and Elf Power. But don’t take that to mean it sounds dated. While its dreamy tone errs on the side of sun-baked ’60s AM radio pop psychedelia, there is enough modern guitar rock flourishes on tracks like “TV” and “Every Sun” to prevent the album from succumbing too deeply to any sort of nostalgia worship. Its sound may be vintage, but On/Off will sit next to your Beach House or Fleet Foxes records just fine.
More than anything else, I’m startled by how much of this record sticks with you. Not just individual melodies, but entire sequences of the album will pop into my head when I least expect it. And that, as much as anything else, is the mark of a great album. Imagination Head sounds like a band that know exactly where they’re going, and they’re perfectly content to take the long view.
Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!
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If You Make It
On their third release, Campaign wastes no time casting you into its high-energy fray, uncorking a barn-burning riff fest on “Old Haunts” that manages to blend abrasive No Idea-style punk with a bit of Bad Religion’s West Coast melodic thrust. It’s a sound that the group has used to great effect before, and here it serves as the perfect entryway into the new EP by reminding fans of what has made the band such a fun and incendiary listen over the past few years. But as the remaining songs go on to prove, Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! is really a showcase for a band in transition. While Campaign’s youthful exuberance and indomitable hardcore spirit remain intact, the music here is much darker and more acerbic than anything they’ve ever done. It’s not so much the tempo that has changed — the band still delivers a frenetic four-on-the-floor rush — but here they’ve traded in some of that snappy punk bounce for a much grittier and more aggressive post-hardcore chug and snarl. It’s a subtle change, but one that pays big dividends as tracks like “Old Thrills” and the closing “Old Mess” point to a far more visceral and serious-minded band — one that is perhaps capable of transcending the inherent limitations of their chosen genre. They’re not entirely there yet, but this EP is a strong start to what just might end up being Campaign’s breakout year.