You ever hear that legend about the ghost ship? Y’know, it got lost in a storm and never came out? It just sailed around and around with a ghost crew, in limbo for all eternity?
That’s basically what I think what happened to The Scenic around 2001. A bunch of dudes in a van were cruising around Philly listening to alt rock and no-frills pop-punk, when they drove straight into some supernatural fog. Lucky for us, they found their way out and wrote a bunch of songs while they were gone.
Their first album “Find Yourself Here” is worth checking out (especially its single “The American Way”), but don’t let its clever collection of song titles and lyrics fool you: it’s not their best work. Where they really shine is on their latest release “Bipolaroid,” after they dropped the shiny pop sheen of the first album and locked in on their sound – gritty, catchy, loose and loud.
Listen to the single “Uh Oh” and tell me you can’t see them touring alongside “Green Album” Weezer, Lit or Stroke 9. Also, good luck getting it out of your head.
Hear that, Generic Pop Rock Band #1? That’s a guitar solo! And, hey, Generic Pop Rock Band #2, pay attention: there’s not a single song about partying on here! I know, I know, Band #3 you’re asking “But…but…what does an indie pop band do for a video if it’s not a party video?”
Think a psycho “Harvey” and you’re getting warm:
Before this whole piece gets too heavy on the love (too late?), I’ll admit, there are a lot of flaws here. Bunny suits in rock videos are only a step or two above golf carts and beer pong in rock videos, the music doesn’t so much carve out its own space as it does stand on the shoulders of my favorite bands from high school, and there are more than enough cringe-worthy lines scattered throughout (“I’m sinking right into the floor, can’t take anymore./I’m not the mat you’re stepping on anymore.”).
So why all the props?
I’m sick of bands waving the flag of “fun summer pop” and using it as an excuse to drench their bad songs in obnoxious auto-tune, vocoders, synths and drum machines. These groups are The Scenic’s peers in the scene, and it’d be a shame to see their glossy, glammy crap eclipse the honest, solid songwriting The Scenic are so clearly capable of. They’ve got some growing to do before they drop anything really special, but the chops are there, the hooks are there, and – most importantly – the heart is there. Sure, their sound reaches backwards a little instead of pushing forwards, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than moving sideways.
As a small band on a notoriously difficult label, the only way The Scenic can survive long enough to make a third album is with the support of people who get what they’re doing and dig it. Buy the album, go see them on tour and pick up some merch.
Together, we can keep ‘em in the van for another decade – hopefully going forward this time instead of in circles.
Chris Cullari | Beat Play Ambassador Los Angeles | @ChriswithMWL| Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC |