Boca Raton might not seem the likeliest of locales for a garage-rock band, but these Canadian transplants have called South Florida home since 2004, the year of their debut release, Lipstick Kiss. Having already developed a following in Fort Lauderdale, playing at venues such as Alligator Alley, the group has been steadily raising its profile in Palm Beach, with gigs at Brogue’s Irish Pub in Lake Worth and at West Palm’s venerable Respectable Street Cafe.
The album opens with “Right On The Money”, a title that could be described as truth in advertising, since it is one of the gems of this collection. The track starts subtly with Thomas Thorslund playing a four-to-the-bar kick-drum beat for the first few bars, followed by the guitar and vocals of his brother Jeph. (Reminiscent of early Beatle recordings, the guitar is panned toward one speaker and the vocals towards the other.)
The arrangement builds up steadily, with the bassline making its debut during the chorus, and the guitar of Hannah Thorslund coming in on the second verse. The gradual layering throughout the track is very effective, and the results are nicely contrasted by a quieter passage at the end of the bridge when the insistent bassline drops out for a few bars.
In general, the Pretty Faces sound seems to be a mix of influences both old and new. The steady rhythm guitar of “Pistolera” accompanied by a high-energy drum accompaniment seems reminiscent of The Killers but also harkens to the sound of early-’80s bands such as Cheap Trick and Split Enz. Similarly, the track “Rib” exhibits the musical influence of newer garage-rock bands such as The Strokes, but the sharp wit and clever wordplay of its lyrics (“Hold your tongue and stop the clamour/Don’t correct my English grammar”) owe a huge debt to New Wave pioneer Elvis Costello.
Costello’s influence is also evident in Jeph’s vocal for “Sweet Sixteen”, even down to the slight wobbles in its opening lines. The track seems arranged to showcase the band firing on all cylinders, with the vocal starting almost immediately and the instruments quickly building up to a full-on attack. The Costello influence is even stronger on the follow-on track, with Jeph sneering his way through the vocal for “Inch By Inch”.
The following track, “Elephant” is Hannah’s sole songwriting contribution (and lead vocal), but the composition and performance makes an exceedingly strong case that more of her work should appear on future albums. From its catchy guitar intro to a vocal that starts airy and gradually becomes more powerful, all while floating over a tapestry of power chords, throbbing bassline and explosive cymbal crashes, this track is, simply put, one of the best of this collection. Even its lyrics are clever (the chorus reads: “And I try to push that black behind/But I have been cursed with an elephant’s mind”). Like the perfect dinner guest, the song departs long before the listener grows tired of it, a quality exhibited by this album as a whole.
Coming after that, the midtempo rocker “Halfway There” clearly had a tough act to follow. And while the track develops nicely, becoming more appealing with each new verse, it seems somewhat victimized by the album’s track sequencing. Perhaps it would have been better served by appearing earlier in the running order; its position could have been better occupied by the title track, a song that gets right down to the business of giving as good as it gets. Similarly, while the acoustic ballad “Yellow Highway Lights” serves as the biggest departure sound-wise for the album, the track with a nod to the softer side of Crowded House seems to be held back by a rhythm track that perhaps needed to be brighter or more prominent in the mix.
The closing track “Sinking Ship” starts with a pulsing bassline that is, to borrow the parlance of the Beatles-era Liverpool music scene, “mean, moody and magnificent”. This is the perfect track to which to stomp around the dance floor, and a wonderful way to end a dynamic, fun album.
(For further information, please the band’s website at www.theprettyfaces.com