What does “Indie Rock” really mean, anyways? In the early to mid-2000’s, the phrase was used to describe non-major label bands/labels the rose to prominence due to sounds that differed from the reigning sounds of the 90’s. Brit-pop and trip-hop became post-punk and garage rock (yeah ok sure I’m generalizing, buuuut.) But with a musical culture where Bandcamp digital sales grew by 14% last year while otherwise trending downward industry-wide, the traditional idea of indie rock is really no longer what it once was.
But you don’t have to take that from me, a big dummy who is on record admitting I have no idea what I’m talking about. Instead, take it from the title track to The Pomp’s new album Indie Rock Is Dying. The track, which bookends the band’s new 6-song EP, details the pitfalls of struggling to keep up with the changing trends from the perspective of a ska fan. Preceding it are five more bits of well-crafted “Island Power-Pop” (a.k.a. “ska” but using four more syllables) that streamline the band’s strengths into another strong showing for The Pomp’s catalog.
To present an album this summer-ready with such an ominous title is to use one of my favorite juxtapositions, mixing songs that sound bright and carefree on the surface but upon closer inspection reveal a bitterness that makes them more “down-to-earth” and human. Its a trait that follows through in the rest of the songs of the EP as well, with bright sounds complimented with lyrics that often times push the snark to unprecedented levels. The excellent lead-off track “All My Guns” was written from the sarcastic viewpoint of a card-carrying NRA member who’s idea of “personal safety” involves weapons you would normally need cheat codes to acquire, while “How To Lure People” seems like an ode to a dangerously troublesome ex-girlfriend (think of it like a laid-back/less serious version of Big D’s “G.L.D.”). This quality is shared with bands like Reel Big Fish, though it’s a credit to The Pomps that the snark on these songs is subdued enough that they don’t become grating or obnoxious after multiple listens.
That “sunny-with-shady overtones” quality is something that comes only after considerable practice, like for instance when Pomps songwriter Alex Stern wrote and recorded one song a week for the entirety of 2015. A big part of how The Pomps achieve their level of mastery is that every member of the band is a veteran of Boston’s music scene. Alex Stern and keyboardist Casey Gruttadauria are currently in Big D and the Kids Table, while Alex is formerly of Boston band Mass. Hysteria and Casey plays in The Macrotones and Destroy Babylon. Joining them are bassist Jameson Hollis (formerly of the Have-Nots) and drummer/session musician/music educator Rick Smith.
This combined experience is immediately noticeable when listening to any of these tracks, but is perhaps best seen in the many memorable moments that are scattered throughout the EP’s brief 17-minute run-time. “How To Lure People” flows along with a very New-Wave inspired beat before hitting a climax close to the track’s end that genuinely made me restart the song to help me figure out how I was caught so unaware by the build-up. The only track on the EP not a straight recording by the band, “Halo vs. King Django” volunteers the Top of the Pomps track “Halo” as the band’s de-facto track for dubbing. Compared to Ranking Joe’s toast-heavy version from earlier this year, King Django’s version seems to have a heavier focus on different production techniques. The often-distorted bouts of delay and reverb throughout the track give it a spacey vibe that to me makes it the preferred version, at least in the context of this vocal-heavy EP.
Compared to past releases, Indie Rock presents a more polished sound and tighter songwriting that makes me excited for the possibility of another full-length album in the future. Now that this EP connects the band with the recently-notable Rarebreed Recording Company, one can only expect The Pomp’s notoriety to rise even further. The phrase “Indie Rock” has never corresponded with a specific set of sounds, but instead seemingly the ever-shifting trends associated with popular alternative music in the past fifteen years. Because of this, “Indie Rock” is in a constant state of decay and rebirth. Now on their third solid release, The Pomps are showing that resisting the trends can often be the smarter choice.
BIG TUNES: “All My Guns”, “How To Lure People”, “Indie Rock Is Dying”