Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Hockey - Mind Chaos (* * * *)

Portland dance-rock band Hockey may be new to the scene, but they've already covered quite a bit of ground. They've toured on either side of the Atlantic, appearing on both the Jools Holland show and Jimmy Fallon, and created all sorts of well-deserved buzz on early singles like the infectious "Too Fake." After hearing a few tunes from the band, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of their debut album - Mind Chaos - which was recently released and mostly delivers on the sizable amount of hype with a healthy dose of both understated electro-funk and guitar-fueled punk-rock. The two genres blend together smoothly and with some excellent results, showing Hockey as a confident and talented bunch of newcomers that will probably appeal to indie kids and the more radio-friendly crowd as well.

The aforementioned "Too Fake" begins the album on perhaps its highest point. It's the perfect example of how well the band's LCD Soundsystem via The Clash style can work, with some simple digital programming under an equally simple guitar/drum/bass attack and singer Benjamin Grubin's appealingly cocky croon that grabs hold during the song's explosive chorus. Throughout the record, Hockey's frontman remains appropriately in the spotlight, spouting too-cool lines like "I've got too much soul for the world" and "I stole my personality from an anonymous source/and I'm getting paid for it too/I don't feel bad about that" with stylish casualness at times and eager sincerity at others, usually finding the perfect balance between the two. That's not to discredit the band, who keep it mostly straightforward but with the right hooks in all the right places, making tracks like the 80's pop groove of "Song Away" and the gospel-meets-funk of "Preacher" (just to name a couple) so fun, danceable, and impossibly catchy.

The album's more diverse second half doesn't quite coalesce like the first five tracks (which are all great), but even the songs that feel a bit out of place - like the folky "Four Holy Photos" - succeed well enough not to merit a serious complaint, especially considering the general strength of the 11 tunes comprising this solid debut. Hockey is off to a fantastic start with Mind Chaos, a fun and fresh rock album with punk energy and pop intelligence. It almost seems too easy to love, too obvious or simple perhaps, but even after spending some serious time with the album, I can't help but feel that this pleasure is anything but guilty. Definitely expect to be hearing much more about these guys soon.