The first thing you notice as you listen to Streetlamps for Spotlights full-length debut, Sound and Color, is how much these guys love texture. Sometimes it’s subtle, but these textural layers are always present in the songs. Whether it’s in Jason Davis’ guitar work with jagged punches of riffs and noise, or in Jay Hackbush’s solid bass lines keeping things afloat, or Ryan Holquist’s pounding drums going from solid rhythms to full on post-punk explosions (sometimes in the same song), the textures are there.As well as being the six-string guru of SfS, Davis sings over these aural explosions, sometimes like a man on a mission and sometimes like a man looking hopelessly for answers – always, though, with a purpose. Sound and Color is part post-punk manifesto and part grizzled, razor wire pop record. Several singles over the last few years have built up to this statement of musical authority, and Streetlamps for Spotlights are ready for their close-up.
This debut makes it perfectly clear that Davis, Hackbush and Holquist are a force to be reckoned with. “Ready Already” opens the album like an explosion of conviction. You can almost see the spittle flying in the air as Davis sings, “Are you ready already?!” Musically, this is a barbed-wire slash of a song, with noise that would make Sonic Youth jealous. But then gears shift in the great “Right Back,” which turns the previous angst in the album opener into an alternative pop gem. The previously mentioned textures? Yeah, they’re all over this one. “Someday” sounds like Green Mind-era Dino Jr,, especially in Davis’ guitar work. Hackbush and Holquist give SfS that very unique, almost metal-like backbone, allowing Davis to keep things loose and spacey in the mid-section. “Call it Off” is just a scorcher, with some speaker-melting guitar and Holquist completely abusing the drums.
The truly unique thing about these guys is that they keep the mood just slightly off kilter. Just when you think a song is going to do one thing, it does something else. There’s always this underlying dissonance in the music that keeps it from becoming, well, “average,” I guess. There’s some amazing interplay between these three players, and the songs benefit greatly from Davis’ eschewed view of the universe. Take a track like “Walking,” an at times eerie-sounding track that shows off a great balance between artistic reach and melodic presence. It satisfies all the senses. You don’t get fluff from these guys. Then they follow “Walking” up with a bombastic track like “Don’t Worry” which just straight up rocks. And “Damaged”? It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early Cheap Trick record.
These three guys take their expansive set of influences and mesh them quite well, but they do so subtly enough that you can never quite put your finger on who a particular song sounds like. It just sounds like Streetlamps for Spotlights. “Lies” and the wonderful “New Year’s Ball” won’t be mistaken for anything but SfS songs. Title track and album closer “Sound and Color” leave us with these words, “Will we still be doing this when we are 60 / Same thing we’ve been doing since we were 16.” It’s a sentiment that could be taken more than one way.
At its core Sound and Color is about loss, the hurt of losing someone. But around that core is a noisy, jangly, jagged rock n’ roll album that is one of the best to ever come out of Fort Wayne. The trio of Davis, Hackbush and Holquist swirl noise like Pollock dripped paint. It can be messy and sometimes abstract, but it’s always quite wonderful.
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