The recent trend in independent music of bands naming themselves after word-play ridden celebrity characters has always seemed like an indicator of laziness and a rather uncreative start to a career. Ringo Deathstarr, Vagina Wolf, Com Truise, Joy Orbison, and of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. I’ll admit I was reluctant to listen to them as they first started circulating, their ridiculous name makes me a little embarrassed for them even, but the Motor City duo finally caught my attention with last year’s Horse Power EP.
Jump ahead to 2011’s debut album It’s a Corporate World and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. continue to find new fans with their blend of mellow pop and blissful vocals. Touring almost nonstop for 10 months now, Jr. Jr. have been blazing trails all over the country, converting the critics like me, the ones who scoffed at their name, into their own personal sing-a-long pals. There’s something about the breezy whistling and soft xylophones on “Simple Girl,” along with member Josh Epstein’s relatable lyrics, that lend themselves to slightly out of key mimicking. Although their sound certainly deviates from that pattern on “Simple Girl,” It’s a Corporate World remains tremendously coherent throughout, never straying too far from the Beach Boys sound that made them famous.
It’s tracks like “Skeletons” and “It’s a Corporate World” that show the kind of song writing skills that these two gentlemen possess: a sound that goes beyond thoughtless, yet incredibly enjoyable, pop jams. “Skeletons” is a stripped down and mellow piece that centers on Jr. Jr.’s vocal harmonies and simple drum arrangements. It’s a simple formula, and at a mere two minutes it is sadly short-lived on the album, but “Skeletons” is intimate and graceful, a feat not often achieved by two bearded men from Detroit. And what “Skeletons” does for Jr. Jr.’s sound, title track “It’s a Corporate World” achieves almost the opposite, a more rambunctious and rock ‘n roll influenced song than anything else on the album. The quick tapping of the drum rims, the explosion of keyboards and guitars at the crescendo, “It’s a Corporate World” shows off the fact that Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott can also rock, along with turning you into a swooning summer pop lover.
The one downfall of It’s a Corporate World is that Jr. Jr. had already shown their hand long before the album came out. Four of the five tracks from the Horse Power EP are showcased here, and terrific as they might be, it’s underwhelming to hear so many familiar tracks, especially when they are some of the best cuts. If you’re completely new to the group, then this gripe is moot, but if you’ve followed these speedsters from “God Only Knows” hype to now, it’s easy to find It’s a Corporate World a bit unenchanting. That being said, the album is incredibly easy to listen to front to back twice in a row, one of those rare occasions where each track sounds similar enough to the last that they all start to blend together, with each song still remaining unique. It’s fun, accessible, at times completely unique, but ultimately it would have nice to hear Jr. Jr. challenge their own sound a little more on their debut album.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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