Air Stereo Label: Zoe Records
The Damnwells’ debut Bastards of the Beat was one of the notably lost gems of 2004. Call it a blunder by Epic Records at the time, but it’s a shame that album didn’t get marketed any better. Two years and (surprise, surprise) another record label later, Brooklyn’s hardest touring unknown band returns with an equally strong follow up, Air Stereo. Laying irresistible melodies against ultra catchy pop rock guitars, the bulk of these 13 songs should no doubt be hummed along to during the primary spin. Putting more into the arrangements this time, Alex Dezen and his roots rock four-piece bring a serious heartland feel to the big city with the tender and dreamy “Golden Days,” the kind of stuff that Counting Crows once had a patent on.
A bevy of horns, piano, and multiple strings takes Air Stereo to a place where Bastards of the Beat never went. Their debut was a guitar record, plain and simple, and while the latest maintains the guitar as a key ingredient, it’s neither overbearing nor front-and-center. Mid-tempo numbers like “Louisville” and “Graceless” park the guitars for pianos and violins instead, even a sparse slide lap steel on the latter. The range and diversity here are refreshing to say the least, and ultimately save the album from drifting into too sleepy a state during the second half. Amidst several ballads are feverish amp-ringers like “Accidental Man” and “I Am a Leaver” that find the Damnwells very much returning to the prior record’s formula.
“I’ve Got You” opens the record in unique fashion with a solitary piano pointing the way to an eventual sonic wall of sound, featuring a very Rubber Soul-like guitar riff and lyrics that pay homage to nearly every classic rock time period of the past 20 years. “I’ve got you, babe, don’t stop believing, babe / I’ve got you, babe, kick start my heart, babe / I’ve got you, babe, sweet child o’ mine, babe / I’ve got you, babe, wanna be startin’ something, babe,” Dezen recalls on a wonderful trip down memory lane within a brilliantly simple arrangement.
Having caught their career break a few years back when Cheap Trick scooped them up for an opening tour slot, the Damnwells are making good on all the things their mentors laid before them. Keep it simple with great songwriting, big hooks, and ear candy melodies. Tour ‘til you’re black and blue and hope like hell the kids keep buying your records. It’s as if Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen wrote a “how to” guide and tucked it in the Damnwells’ overnight bag.