By Josh Ginsberg
When I think about the bands I listen to, I think of them as splitting into two distinct camps. The bands in the first camp do big, new things. They present challenges with every release and when they get it right, it can be mind-blowing. It’s easy to place them on some elevated level as true innovators or architects of future generations of sonic exploration. But every once in a while it’s refreshing to listen to something straight up, raw, no-frills, that exists as a result of a simple formula and gratifies with simple hooky bliss. In this case that bliss is over-driven, punchy and subtly lo-fi. New Jersey’s Alex and the Horribles are a rock band. Their first record’s ten songs blast through in something like twenty-two minutes, ranging from brainless rockers to smart (assed) ballads to tongue-in-cheek acoustic throwaways. The Horribles’ second album Sleepwalking Into The Future is a significantly stronger record. Sleepwalking is probably not going to blow anyone’s mind, but since it snuck onto my iTunes, I’ve been listening to the Horribles’ album very consistently.
It makes sense that at the forefront of Sleepwalking Into The Future is Alex. Alex isn’t a great singer and there are moments on “Make Out Like Japanese School Girls” where he qualifies as a bad one. His howling, over a bed of chugging guitars which sound like Green Day covering “In the Street,” is damn near tone-deaf but this is just a part of Alex’s persona. Alex is strangely aloof; reminiscent of the kind of mod Pete Townshend would write an opera about but with a snotty Americanized side. Alex’s lyrics are replete with references to pop music: in fact one of the album’s best songs “Dig Up My Soul,” takes its title from the most recent Oasis LP.
In a post on the band’s blog, Alex lists the meanings of all Sleepwalking’s songs and points out many of the references contained. Alex draws inspiration from The Tibetan Book Of Living and Dying, Isaac Hayes, Reckoning, Led Zeppelin, The Plague Dogs, Pacific Trim EP and David Lynch. It’s always funny to catch an unexpected one. Most of the references are things you’d probably never notice or read particularly deep into, but that’s just part of the fun.
Despite seeming disingenuous at times, Alex writes earnest songs. “Dig Up My Soul” tells the classic story of a boy who is the bane of his girlfriend’s father’s existence. In this case, he is the victim of resentment for being a working class white kid by an upper-middle class Korean family. “Northern California” is one of the strongest tracks and is the best example of guitarists Derek and Ramy’s ability to play off each other, though “Coming Down” might be a better example of the interplay between the entire quintet. “Northern California” is the longest song on the album, at about four and half minutes length. Alex is seemingly unable to decide if he wants companionship or to be left alone. Its jam is the peak of tension on the album but gives way to a nice resolution of mellowing out and drifting for a while.
The record’s sendoff might be my favorite song. “O Jin” is an ode to Alex’s close friend Jin Park and its beginning half sounds like one of the very Kinks songs it references. A song about platonic friendship for about a minute, the song eventually morphs into a coda that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on a Thin Lizzy or Lynard Skynard LP. Alex’s final words are an off-key scream of “Teenage wasteland!” which slides into a falsetto for a few “oohs” and the guitars wind in harmony as the song fades and silence hits. That is, until you scroll back up to “Mary X” and start Sleepwalking Into The Future over again.