Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Jesus And Mary Chain fame is often noted with the phrase, “A band is only as good as it’s drummer.” Though I have some agreeances with this statement, I must offer a different opinion: A band is only as good as its songwriting. Philadelphia’s the Late Greats just released their debut EP, Kids You Knew, a tight and concise batch of crafted garage-rock earworms. While their sound breaks down no new barriers, the band offers interesting perspectives on the genre of garage rock. As they write in the liner notes, “It’s the sound of 1976 filtered through the summer of ’96.” In a time where most consider rock ‘n’ roll falling apart, the Late Greats pick up the pieces to construct their own interpretation of the genre.
From the “Vertigo”-esque chug and harmonized dual Thin Lizzy guitar lines of opener “M.I.A.” to the post-punk influences on “Nowhere To Find Me,” the band channels powerful musical chops through tightly composed songwriting. Luke Bauerlein’s slightly reverbed vocals flow over the thoughtfully composed music, which consists of attentive use of background vocals and strong Guided By Voices-type licks (provided by guitarists Matt Hayes and Andrew Baranek) in order to fill the gaps from the rest of the band.
“Walk Away” is reminiscent of Pinkerton-era Weezer (which was not coincidentally released at the end of “the summer of ’96”), with its fall-apart-at-the-seams instrumentation and acoustic fingerpicking interludes. Songs like “Walk Away” and “Knock Me Down” are based on sturdy rhythmic time changes, provided and improved by bassist John Velez, keyboardist Adam Wassel, and the drumming of Brad Eash (also proving a band is only as good as its drummer).
Thematically, the band tends to focus on the past, in not just in the music but lyrics as well. Failed relationships, nights gone wrong, and searching for answers as years go by are consistent themes throughout the record. Kids You Knew serves as not only the title of the record, but also seems to be a way the band sees themselves. Bauerlein knows he can act childish sometimes (as any of us can), and as he sings on “Nowhere To Find Me”: “Exploit my fear of solitude and self-control I’m known to lack.”
For a band that uses a Wilco song as a reference point for its name, they stray away from Jeff Tweedy’s roots-rock in favor of a Replacements-style barrage, but the storytelling remains similar. As said earlier, the band does not explore a lot of new ground sonically on the record. “Lost Highway” and “Knock Me Down” come off as mid to late-2000s blog-rock (a la Bloc Party or Cage The Elephant) in their presentation, and there is little to no experimentation in the musical tones used. But the Late Greats were never trying to set any trends with their music, and this is not music for those looking for the sound of 2015. This is music for those who long for the sound of 1976 filtered through the summer of ’96. And as they prove with their intricate and dense songwriting, being innovative can show itself in more ways than one.