Sunday, October 25, 2015

Psychic Surgery: My Review Of The Superb New Expert Alterations Album

I was planning on going to see Expert Alterations and recent Slumberland Records signings Mercury Girls last Friday at the University of Maryland's WMUC radio station. Having been there fairly recently to shoot some pics of Dot Dash, I figured it was a cool venue in which to see Expert Alterations crank out tunes from their new album, You Can't Always Be Liked, out Friday on Kanine Records, live to an appreciative crowd.

But I missed it 'cause I didn't want to possibly and probably be the oldest guy in the room. I figured that this ex-record store flunky was probably too old to be propping up a wall at WMUC on a Friday night. But, speaking of the past, the young dudes in Expert Alterations are mining the same exact same style of indie that inspired the College Park crew that I knew back in my record store days a quarter of a century ago, when the University of Maryland had an on-campus record store, and future members of Velocity Girl and other seminal U.S. indie acts were customers. One of those customers (Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl member Archie Moore) mixed this album.

That bit of information is significant to this review of You Can't Always Be Liked 'cause the 3 members of Expert Alterations have somehow managed to so effortlessly make such perfect indie pop that one could forgiven for thinking that someone cherry-picked a bunch of C86 and early Slumberland Records releases and told these Balitmore musicians to go forth and study these. Maybe they did? It doesn't matter. What matters is that You Can't Always Be Liked is such a delight that I simply cannot praise these 12 songs enough.

You Can't Always Be Liked opens with the title track which, as I may have mentioned already, seems to be the perfect combination of the sort of hooks that both The Sundays and The Wedding Present favored circa 1989. Now, that's not to peg Expert Alterations as a nostalgia act meant to ease the aging pains of old-ass C86 fans just like me but, rather, to suggest that the music of Expert Alterations bears favorable comparisons to such seminal acts. This track and the others on this record effortlessly line themselves up with the sort of stuff Gedge cranked out in 1988, for example.

"Psychic Surgery" adds a few traces of U.S. rock history (early R.E.M., The Bongos) to the mix of Brit-influences on this record, while earlier EP track "Midnight Garden" shines again here just as it did on the earlier Extended Play release from Slumberland Records.

"Sort Out" made me think of The Smiths and the way they sounded on live bootlegs or Peel Sessions tracks, while "Don't Want To Go" serves, like a lot of tracks on You Can't Always Be Liked, as a sort of showcase for the skills of drummer Paul Krolian. His beats propel this one marvelously and his style on the kit is part of what makes the music of Expert Alterations so memorable when compared to loads of indie being made today.

Earlier single "The Past and You" is here, all Left Banke-isms updated with jangling guitars, while "Such a Stupid Fool" owes a pretty big debt to stuff from Archie Moore's previous outfit, think "Labrador" from Velocity Girl updated for the 21st Century.

The rest of You Can't Always Be Liked is loaded with similar gems. Nearly every cut here is a perfect little slice of indie pop, all chiming guitar riffs, propulsive bass-lines, and early Jesus and Mary Chain-style drum-work. Paul Krolian (drums), Alan Everhart (bass), and Patrick Teal (vocals and guitar) have made a sort of masterpiece here. I can't say that the music of Expert Alterations is not reminiscent of stuff that was made before these guys were even born but I can say that it's put together in such a way that it sounds new and fresh. Archie Moore's mixing job has polished these songs into chiming and bouncing little gems. The band sounds like they are playing live in the studio and if Moore's intention was to make You Can't Always Be Liked sound like the Peel Sessions album of some British band from 1987, he's succeeded. And that's meant as an enormous compliment 'cause one feels somehow that you've heard these songs before. They are familiar in just the right, small ways.

Still, that's not to narrow down the appeal of this music. No, the 12 tracks on You Can't Always Be Liked by Expert Alterations are both perfect updates of the C86 form as well as refinements of the sort of American power pop made by The Bongos, The Shoes, and The Rubinoos. Somehow by melding 2 different waves of music from both sides of the Atlantic the Baltimore trio of Expert Alterations have laid down a template here for how to make invigorating indie rock in 2015. You Can't Always Be Liked is surely one of the best, most consistent releases of 2015 and I would find it hard to imagine anyone not grooving on this the way I did.

You Can't Always Be Liked by Expert Alterations is out on Friday via Kanine Records. Follow Expert Alterations via their official Facebook page.