Monday, November 30, 2009

Current Obsession - Tinted Windows

It's bad enough when I find out about a new band well after I should already know, but when they're smack dab in the middle of one of my listening sweet spots it's even worse.  If I haven't mentioned it before, I love Cheap Trick.  They are one of the purest pop bands of all time.  Most of their early back catalogue holds up ridiculously well compared to a lot of the blues based rock foolishness that was happening in the 70's, and to this date they still write some very solid songs that sit nicely along side alt-pop stuff they helped to influence.  So yes, I'm very aware of the album they released this year.  What seems to have slipped by me is a little project called Tinted Windows.

James Iha, formerly with Smashing Pumpkins, grew up in Chicago in the 70's so my assumption is he had  Cheap Trick fairly ingrained in his musical subconscious from an early age.  So pretty cool to recruit Adam Scheslinger from Fountains of Wayne for bass, also clearly influenced by CT.  Then enlist a mature young singer named Taylor Hanson who was destined to outgrow and re-surface from his boy band Hanson, and now very much resembling in sound and stature a young Robin Zander from CT.  Then for shits and giggles, why not just get Cheap Trick's drummer.  The one and only Bun E. Carlos, who to this blogger's opinion is probably the most solid and consistent drummer of all time (Ringo Starr's tempo but with skills).  Nice work James, and that's before even hearing a note.

So this thing sounds like Cheap Trick.  A whole bunch.  It's taken years of maturing as an aspiring critic to appreciate that when a band has been ripped off that much and referenced as often by critics for their influence in the hard rock/pop genre sphere, that maybe more bands should in fact rip off Cheap Trick, and if you are then at least your band is trying to sound like something special if not particularly unique.  So young bands listen loud and clear (since so many of you read this everyday).  If you're stealing from Cheap Trick, keep doing it.  You're on the right track.

I picked this up on the weekend and I can't say if I'll still be listening to it at this pace in two weeks, but right now it's about as well crafted a guitar pop disc as I've heard this year.  Iha's technique creeps in on some of the solos where you can tell his ability outweighs that of a typical pop lead guitarist.  It's his simple chord progressions and warm distortion that surprised me.  I mostly assumed he followed Corgan's lead, but depending on his involvement in the writing for this project, he has a natural knack for hooks.  This goes without say for Hanson and Schlesinger, who've made careers of sugar sweet three minute pop gems.  As for drums, it's Bun E. Carlos, and no one is cooler than Bun E.  No one.

So at face value, some will call this disposable, but that's the trick.  To make something so familiar listeners find comfort, yet fresh enough and contemporary enough that the album can find a special quiet spot that only a handful of people will remember 10 years from now.  I don't think any of the band members are counting on this project to make them rich.  In fact the youngest member is probably the richest and still cashing Mmmmbop cheques (I never know how many "m's").  So with little at stake other than to just make the album all four cats want to make, there's no pressure.  Just like there's no pressure to write Radiohead calibre lyrics.  Young kids like Britney Spears because they think her music's fun.  Fair enough, I agree.  Just the same, what if you could capture that same sense of fun and playfulness, with equal parts cleverness and sincerity?  You get something like Tinted Windows.

For all the pretentious interesting ground breaking music I find in the run of year, there is very little that gets me more jazzed than stuff like this album.  No one makes an album like this unless they genuinely love making music keyed in on melody, cohesion and saying everything you need to in 3 minutes or less.  These albums inevitably get lost in the shuffle, if they're even lucky enough to register on any mass listening radar.  Hopefully enough people will buy this record so the Tinted Window lads will consider doing it again at some point.  Well done lads (when you get music like this just right, I get to call you "lads" - check the music nerd handbook under "slang for dudes in good pop bands")

Here's the video for their lead single, "Kind Of A Girl"