For everyone who thinks of D.C. as a hardcore town, or the D.C. suburbs the birthplace of seminal indie labels like Slumberland Records or Teen-Beat, there are probably another dozen people who think of this area as the home of a genuine power-pop legend. Mr. Tommy Keene has been crafting damn-near perfect pop for more than 3 decades now and he's back with his newest album, Laugh in the Dark, out now on Second Motion Records.
The platter, like most of his records, is a collection of sharp, punchy rockers and more expansive takes on the legacy of Beatlemania. If opener "Out of My Mind" crashes along like a classic Cheap Trick single, "Dear Heloise" offers up more intricate and layered guitar hooks in the support of something that's more Raspberries than Big Star. At his most direct and immediate, like on the wonderfully-titled "Last of the Twilight Girls", Tommy sounds positively invigorated. With more rawk oomph than many people remember hearing on his classic stuff a few decades back, the cut roars past in a blast of drums, cymbal crashes, and guitar chords. Joined by players Brad Quinn on bass and John Richardson on drums, the band on Laugh in the Dark makes Tommy Keene sound like the true heir to the power-pop crown worn at one time by cats like Marshall Crenshaw and Mitch Easter.
"All the Lights are Alive" adds an aching, chiming guitar-line to that familiar Keene crunch to wonderful effect, while the title cut showcases Keene's axe-work as the equal of Peter Buck, circa 1983. If you close your eyes, you'd think you were hearing a lost cut from the Songs from the Film sessions; it's not that Keene is stuck in the past -- in "Places That are Gone"? -- but, rather, that he's become the master at this sort of thing. The cat can crank out something this beautiful, with this much bite and heart, and make it look so easy. "I Belong to You" may be catchy but it still has a Westerberg-like kick to it, especially that sublime instrumental bridge.
If the smartly-titled "Alone in These Modern Times" is another welcome nod to past Keene glories (updated for the present day), then "I Want It To Be Over Now" is more explicitly a Beatles homage, specifically the Fab Four of the "Can't Buy Me Love"-era. More perfectly pop than a lot of what we heard in That Thing You Do! (1996), Keene has found a way to update those worthy power-pop templates for current listeners. Crisp, catchy, and concise, this is one to use to introduce new listeners to Tommy's world of hooks.
As his press indicated, "Go Back Home" is Keene's stab at the rough blues-folk of Led Zeppelin III, complete with slide guitar. Still, one can still hear traces of Tommy's best stuff here just warped into another shape. Laugh in the Dark closes on the high note of "All Gone Away" with its complex take on the Beatles' brand of psychedelia. Still tuneful, Tommy expands his horizons here with this bold one and if it's not quite as power-pop crunchy as the other 9 cuts on Laugh in the Dark, it's every bit as brilliant. A refresher course in why this guy is one of the great underappreciated guitarists in rock -- especially D.C. rock -- "All Gone Away" sways and unfurls like an American draft of "Champagne Supvernova" with the bombast pulled down to a more manageable level.
With another record that solidifies his right to say he's got no duds in his catalog, Tommy Keene has (again) delivered the goods with his new album. Laugh in the Dark is out now via Second Motion Records. More details via Tommy Keene's official website.
If there was any justice in the world, Tommy Keene would sit in for a cover of The Beatles' "Rain" with openers Dot Dash tomorrow night at IOTA. Yeah, that sounds a bit crazy when you think that there are one-time members of Dischord legends Youth Brigade (Danny Ingram) and Minor Threat (Steve Hansgen) in Dot Dash but you've also got Terry Banks up front and that cat, along with bassist Hunter Bennett, seems to be trying to somehow magically combine the musical pop-punk of The Jam with the sort of classic song-craft favored by the Beatles and their generation. Doubt me? Try out the band's latest, Earthquakes and Tidal Waves and get with the program. It's out now via TheBeautifulMusic.com.
More details on Dot Dash on their official Facebook page.