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Volebeats - Like Her

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Artist: Volebeats

Album: Like Her

Label: Turquoise Mountain

Review date: Aug. 29, 2005

Though they’ve been kicking around since the late 1980s, it’s been half a decade since the Motor City five-piece The Volebeats released a full-length record of originals. It’s easy to imagine Jeff Oakes, Matthew Smith, and company spending the interim at garage sales and record fairs, rifling through the cracked spines of ’60s pop LPs, because Like Her plays like a seamless stitching of Roger McGuinn 12-string Rickenbacker riffs to Everly Brothers vocal harmonies and Tony Meehan’s precise drumming. Though it’s hardly a momentous departure, the band’s past records have tended to veer into a variety of other styles: rockabilly piano pounding (The Sky and the Ocean), desert rattle-shake (Solitude), and the tears-in-the-whiskey country jangle for which they’re best known – albeit to far too few. Like Her holds fast to throwback pop tropes, and if you dig the Byrds and the Hollies you’re pretty much set, because few other bands refashion them quite so charmingly.

The Volebeats have always taken a round robin approach to songwriting but their hooks are uniformly glorious, with past standouts like “Two Seconds,” “Desert Song,” and “Not Here Not Gone” all belonging to different primary songwriters. Like Her is heavily dominated by Matthew Smith compositions, which may explain the preponderance of chiming melodies. The sometime-frontman for Outrageous Cherry could have effortlessly auditioned many of these tracks for his other group – most are carved out enough to fit a wah-wah pedal or two without trouble – but fuzz and distortion would be antithetical to the Volebeats’ guiding principal, which is a kind of unrepentant nostalgia free of bitterness. It’s as if it isn’t enough for their songs to evoke a former era or a past happiness – they have to reclaim them. Buckets of reverb and major arpeggios marching languidly in-step to their inevitable finish may evoke moptop haircuts and summers with the top down, but they’re also formal strategies for putting friction to the wheels of time.

Longtime fans of the band will thrill at the opening notes, which feature Matthew Smith throwing his distinctive croon into a cavern of reverb. When the drums kick in and that syrupy guitar chords start blazing, the blueprint for the next 37 minutes has effectively been established. “Outside” twinkles in a sorrowful steel-guitar haze and “Here It Comes Again” ratchets up the Shadows influence with its clip-clop drumming and “Apache”-style guitar lead. But the dominant sound is the cathedral chime of brief and blissful pop confections like “September Spell” and “World’s Looking Lonely,” both of which are propelled by sunny vocal harmonies. Thirty-seven minutes of new Volebeats material every 5 years is hardly enough, but I’ll take what I can get.

By Nathan Hogan

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