25 September 2009

Album Review: The Luxury - In the Wake of What Won't Change

Back when I reviewed albums for 91.3 KXCI Tucson ("real people, real radio"), I had the luck to stumble upon Boston-based britpop group The Luxury's debut album, This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things. A piece of emotive, sharply cornered pop/rock that was remarkably recorded in singer/producer Jason Dunn's apartment/bedroom (I can't remember which). The band back then (2006? 2007?) showed great promise in their songwriting, even if they couldn't afford studio time.

Now that 2009 has borne our universe most of the way through the fruits of her many months--when September is the month--I admit I'm a little surprised to find that The Luxury have followed me to Tempe, sending a CD to The Blaze. Well, this is my chance to follow their progress.

As it turns out, The Luxury have been busy, finishing first in a Boston-area band battle and recording their second album with the free studio time they won. For the large part, In the Wake of What Won't Change is bigger, more elaborate, and an improvement on what the band probably wanted to make on their first effort. Gone are the rough edges of their first record; their sophomore work hones in on the type of anthemic, alt-influenced britpop that defined the band's debut. In the Wake has two "sides" (but you don't have to flip over the disc), both with short, abstract "intros," which feels like self-indulgent bloat until you realize that the first side is definitely different from the second.

"Getaway Car," which starts the record proper after the first intro, steps nimbly over the beat, bouncing on the usual rock band standard plus an arpeggiating synth. I compliment "Take It Back" for the way it mixes throwbacks to classic rock with studio trickery, at once both heavy and soft. The first side even comes to resemble power pop at times. The Luxury does some of the best harmonies I've heard from recent bands, especially on "'Til Your Last Year" and "The Mirror Fogs."

The second side, begun by "El Jefe Y Su Burro (intro)," represents The Luxury's foray into production indulgence. I can't imagine what could have inspired the band to find not one, but two trumpeters for the aforementioned track and its follow-up, "Straitjacket," which sounds like David Terry of Aqueduct ditched the synthesizers and got major studio backing. While I am biased against extravagant arrangements without cause, I cannot deny that the trumpet blares and Jason Dunn's ridiculous energy make my foot tap hopelessly. The rest of the side finds the five-member band building U2-style anthems, heard best on "Sing for the Last Train" and "Closer."

It is also on the second side that the band makes a big misstep--criticizing President George W. Bush. My political views aside, I remember the last KASC Music Director, Owen, remarking that that no one wants to hear outdated political commentary in song form (or something like that--sorry, Owen). And yet, "012009" (referring to January 20, 2009, when Bush left office) spends three minutes to this very subject. Songs like this one, with thinly-veiled lyrics about a specific person, can quickly date a band or mark a group's amateurishness.

Misguided political statements aside, The Luxury has made an album that should get them national attention (should being the key word). If you can make it past track 11, The Luxury are a band that you need to hear. In the Wake of What Won't Change has carved out the space between power britpop and big indie rock and filled it. I just hope that these guys can resist the allure of overproduction so common to mainstream rock and pop.

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