With soulfully trampling horn flourishes culled from Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ 70’s best, and a delicately melodic guitar solo on par with Brian May’s instantly recognizable curling leads all thrown at you within the first few minutes of the listening experience, you’re immediately aware that you’re in for a vibrant listen. Digging a little deeper, you discover an overall attack akin to something resulting from a would-be Thom Yorke-meets-Ween musical science project – you’ve just been exposed to Scranton’s Heavy Blonde and their debut full-length album, “Heatwave.”
Born from the ashes of “And The Moneynotes,” led by ATM songwriter/vocalist Mike Williams, Heavy Blonde specializes in what they refer to as “tropical psychedelic groove rock.” It’s a fitting description of the music, as the album’s 11 tracks are uber-laid back, perfect for a drink and your hand and your toes in the sand, with a looseness and wit as endearing as the band’s complete lack of pretense and knowing knack for experimentation. With the bulk of the recording done with producer Nick Krill at Philadelphia’s Miner Street Studios and additional work performed at Scranton’s The Launchpad, the music is nothing short of a dizzying canvas spill, with unexpected nuances at every turn.
Williams’ delightfully wobbly vocals drive the performances, as his voice bleeds color throughout the album. Opening track, “Shotgun Wedding,” is evidence of this, as the aforementioned brass-blasted horns offset the playfully self-deprecating lyrics like “could I be your maybe if not your number one?” It’s impossible not to smile just a bit after hearing such blatant aural sunshine when you know this band really means it. Equally head-turning is the minor-key vamp of “Make ‘em Wait,” which is slightly reminiscent of a Burt Bacharach by-way-of Fastball’s Miles Zuniga’s melodic sensibility – cabaret roots rock, if you will.
The band’s creative wizardry is felt in cuts like “Savannah,” with a Modest Mouse-like skewered rhythmic folly introduced with cleverly plucked string sequence and one of the most likeable snare drum smacks this side of Slim Jim Phantom’s rockabilly riot. We can’t help but be on Williams’ side as he repeats the tongue-in-cheek assertion of “I can do better than this” as he pines to make a fresh start. “The American Girl” is even more “tropical” in ambiance, complete with Jack Johnson-esque, feel-good acoustic guitar and island percussion chased with “ooh-la-la” vocal breeze. The track reads like a poetry slam committed to tape, with twanging sincerity and faux emotional highs and lows – just look for the fuzzed-out guitar squalor at track’s end for a roughneck surprise.
For a prime example of what the band does best, check out “Johnny Got Fangs,” a Jack White-sounding rocker with plundering piano bed and character oozing from the edges, swelling to almost tent revival epic heights. The band is just sarcastic enough to warrant a response from the listener, without going overboard and turning the whole thing on its ear.
With seemingly every musical genre at its mashed-up command and songwriting whimsy at a premium, these stylistic visionaries are one of the most unique listening experiences to be had locally, if not nationally. Heavy Blonde is pure musicality let loose to settle into previously uncharted territory – it’s a fun ride.