One of my favorite films of all time is Tom Hanks’ little gem That Thing You Do! It tells the all-too-common story of a one-hit wonder band in the ‘60s, and it takes on nostalgia for the era with a bright-eyed wink. The movie’s titular song, the fictional Wonders’ big hit, is a smartly-written facsimile of '60s rock and roll that could pass as the genuine work of some rather talented British Invasion-era hopefuls. It is this particular song—a pitch-perfect replica—that comes to mind when listening to Strange Faces' debut album, Stonerism.
Don't get me wrong—the Chicago-based garage rockers don't sound remotely as squeaky-clean as the Wonders, but imagine Wavves doing a cover of "That Thing You Do" and you start to approach the actual feel of Stonerism. The 11-track record oozes vintage pop at every turn, incorporating elements of surf rock and old-timey rhythm and blues, but mainly in melodic structure and lyrics. Their sonic approach, meanwhile, packs enough scuzzy reverb to make you feel like your ears need a cleaning. But, taken together, it makes for a fun, cheeky final product with the same kind of irreverent charm that we see in so many boy bands, from the Fab Four themselves to, say, Blink 182.
Take, for example, the second track, "Don't Feel Bad," which opens with the lines "I killed my baby today and I don't feel bad / Put a bullet right between her eyes 'cause she was with my dad." Certainly a wise-ass take on the classic murder ballad—something the Beatles themselves took a stab at (see: "Run For Your Life"), though theirs didn't give off the sense that the band were snickering the whole way through it.
But other songs on this album feel like much more sincere efforts, like third track “Been Waitin’,” in which singer David Miller innocently pleads, “Baby, please don’t make me shout / I’d like to take you out sometime,” while a grunged-out guitar plays a quintessentially ‘60s riff. With ease and a certain swagger, the band pull off the same formula that informed “That Thing You Do,” which is no light achievement. It indicates a strong grasp of songwriting technique and manages to sound like a kind of homage rather than a trite imitation.
Many of the songs on Stonerism follow this lead, and though there are times when they seem to blend together without much to really say, a few do stand out. “Brand New Way” is one, partly because the power chords feel much more ‘70s, imparting a fresh feel within the track list. These guys know how to wield their guitars in very specific ways, invoking a spectrum of bands as the album plays. A hint of Big Star here, a flicker of The Strokes there. They’ve proven their ability to perfectly embody any flavor of rock and roll, though they still may need to distill their own personal style from here.