Ever since Nirvana became the world’s most prestigious rock band by playing distorted pop songs, the line between pop and rock has been blurred. To me, it’s pretty much an attitude at this point. Modest Mouse is a rock band, mostly because they sneer at anything and everyone who doesn’t fit into their ideas of the way things should be. Even though Three Days Grace, Hinder, and even Nickelback play “rock’n’roll” by modern standards, they are pop bands. They are pop bands because they act like preening pop stars and not like rock stars (i.e. hedonistic excess does not a rock band make).
Play the Angel is one of the best pop bands I’ve heard in years. They play “rock” by the radio’s standards, but they don’t have any of the attitude of a rock band. And that’s a good thing, because they embrace their pop star aesthetics and give the people what they want. There are five songs on this EP: straightforward rock’n’roller, major-key powerballad, dance-rock tune, whoa-oh pop-punk tune, and Gavin DeGraw-style emotive piano ballad. They have real names, of course, but they each fit excellently into their own radio niche. “So what?” you say. “Bands do that crap all the time.”
Yeah, they do, but they do one of the genres better than the other. Play the Angel does all five right. They could release every song off this EP as a radio single and, with proper label backing, they would have five number one hits. Their songwriting is just that good. Their vocalist has an incredibly appealing voice that’s a tad lower than Tyson Ritter of the All-American Rejects but just as emotive. Their production values are pitch-perfect. The band knows when to get out of the way of the vocals and when to crash in for the emotional payoff. Play the Angel does everything right.
If you like anything on rock radio right now, from Fall Out Boy to Hinder to Panic! at the Disco to Paramore to All-American Rejects and anything in between, you’re going to absolutely fall in love with Play the Angel. I don’t have a clue why this band hasn’t shot to the top of the charts yet. They’ve got every piece of the puzzle in line. They just need to see the right guy at the right gig who turns them into mega-stars. Cause, geez, they’re infinitely better than Nickelback. And that crap still sells millions. Again, if you turn on the radio and like anything you hear, Play the Angel is there for you. It’s that good.
There is nothing wrong with the genre of modern rock. When done correctly, it can be just as powerful as your best indie-rock songs or indie-pop tunes. It’s just that there aren’t very many bands like Chevelle, Bush, Glori-H and (okay, I’m prepared to take some flack for this) Linkin Park. There are, however, plenty of sucky bands like Three Days Grace, Nickelback, Staind, Puddle of Mudd, and the like. It’s a true statement that modern rock has a disproportionately amount of sucky artists in its ranks. I don’t know why this is, exactly. But just because there are lots of sucky ones doesn’t stop me from being able to laud a good one when it appears.
And When Summers Gone is a good modern rock band, despite the horribly punctuated name (I have to stop myself from putting a [sic] after every use). Their debut album December features catchy riffs, a solid rhythm section, intense vocals that fit well without sounding forced (mostly), and a general mood that makes it feel real and honest instead of overproduced and bloated.
“Ocean Boulevard” is the standout here, with a charging guitar line accented by syncopated drumming and snarling yet melodic vocals. Every part meshes together, and the song feels like a whole. It doesn’t feel forced or contrived, but like the natural outflow of the band. In the same way that Anathallo sits down and indie-pop glory comes out, When Summers Gone sits down and modern rock comes out. It’s almost definitely not that simple, but the finished product makes it feel that way. And that’s good news for the listener (which is good news for the band).
“Embers” is another hard-charging tune that only misses being the highlight by having a slightly out-of-control vocal line throughout. If the vocals weren’t so passionate as to miss bits here and there (this is, after all, an indie release), the song would easily top “Ocean Boulevard,” as the start/stop, loud/quiet songwriting is the tightest on the album. The band plays with emotions effectively on “Embers,” and that’s a good sign.
If When Summers Gone can hang together and make some more songs, I see good things for them. Their songs are tight and their sound is cohesive. They can write and make it feel natural, which makes me want to listen to their music over others in the genre who just feel contrived as a marketing ploy. They do have issues with vocals in places, but that’s stuff they can smooth out. December is worth picking up if you’re a fan of Bush, Chevelle, or modern rock in general.