Guitar music has to walk some pretty fine lines. Take rock music for example, there isn’t much daylight between a cool guitar-slinger with all the chops and swagger and a cliched buffoon with his foot on the monitor shouting “Hello Cleveland” at a stadium audience. Similarly for every 100 indie bands busily checking its hair in the mirror or alt-rock band making sure that it has just the right designer skinny jeans for the photo shoot, there is probably one or two that get it right. You either have it or you don’t, some things are just inherent, unteachable, natural. Pretty Noise is the sound of a band getting it right.
Driven by the deft songwriting talents of the wonderfully named Chris Champagne, The Twelve AM are the sound of all the coolest bits of garage rock being tempered by a more accessible indie vibe, of hard edged rock being polished for a more discerning audience, of cult colliding with commerciality, of the underground going overground and of classic sonic moves being repackaged rather than those same old cod cliches being revisited.
Dancing around in the common space of a Venn diagram where alt-rock, indie, the clever end of pop and post-punk meets, The Twelve AM work with familiar sounds, and why not, if it ain’t broke and all that, but of course the difference between forward momentum and mere plagiarism is what you do with those tried and tested building blocks. Thankfully this Connecticut outfit understand that tipping a hat to the past is fine as long as you are walking into the future whilst you do it.
It’s a brilliant collection of songs, opening salvo Punk Drunk raising the ghosts of the likes of Husker Du or The Replacements as it squalls and squeals its way into existence, Run With The Bulls offering similar art-rock, alternative college radio reminiscences and Lipstick Red is something The Pixies would have been more than happy to get their hands on. But this is no mere love letter to an underground past, though if that is what you are looking for I’m sure they are happy to play that role too. Empty is a jaunty slice of jangling alt-pop, New Girl is The Foo Fighters if they stopped writing the same song over and over again and Heart Beats is exactly what todays indie scene needs. It’s scrappy, wonderfully loose, the sound of a band brought up touting their musical wares in the tough venues of small college towns rather than the instant big event fast track that many of the industry darlings have access to today.
As we come to the end of the year, Pretty Noise is an unexpected late entry to my albums of the year, well, it would be if I indulged in such overt commercialism. It seems to touch base with so many scenes and eras from 60’s garage bands to 70’s excess to 80’s commercialism to 90’s alternative and on into the alt-rock and indie movements of today. But more than that this is a band that write great songs, have a distinctive sound, even though I have spent the whole review referencing half the contemporary music canon, and they deliver those songs with a loose swagger and chilled indifference, or so it would seem.
Once you have Christmas all bought and paid for, gather up your loose change and go out and buy this album as a present to yourself. You deserve it but more importantly so do they.