Album Review: Title Tracks – It Was Easy (Ernest Jennings)

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Title Tracks – Every Little Bit Hurts

To start, Title Tracks sound nothing like Q and Not U, whose raucous clatter compelled DC post-punkers to dance in the early part of the last decade. Neither does Title Tracks remind you of the energetic indie pop of Georgie James, John Davis’ first post-Q and Not U band. Instead, Title Tracks produces mid-tempo power pop with all the requisite influences, {insert The Jam/Big Star reference here}. And they follow this formula quite well, crafting some tight and exciting songs in the process.

That’s the good news — if you enjoy that sound and feel, you’re probably gonna eat this up the way I ate up Abe Vigoda (who?) a year and a half ago. But frankly the formula is weary, old, and been done before, many thousands of times over. If you’ve decided to step into this arena you have to face the fact that there are a thousand other guys out there playing the same chords and singing the same “la-la”s. So what’s there to distinguish you from them? Usually the answer lies in strong vocals and melodies, and on both counts Davis is fine. In a world where ex-post punkers are embarassing themselves at an alarming rate, give the guy props because he certainly succeeds more often than he fails, but I wish he would take enough chances to do either on a large scale.

All of which is not to say the album sucks. Opener “Every Little Bit Hurts” stands out with its really crammed vocal lines (crammed as in word count, not necessarily crammed with meaning or awkwardly thrust together) on the verse, its barely-holding-it-together drums, and is capped off with a brilliantly slurred chorus line. “Piles of Paper” comes close to matching A.C. Newman’s regal arrangements, albeit few could replicate his formal precision and energy. Elswehere the songs stay true to the album’s title. Most are charming, affectionate pop songs: easy to play, easy to hum along with. None of the rhythms or melodies are challenging; instead Davis is happy to give us tightly constructed head-nodders. The two cover songs (Springsteen’s “Tougher than the Rest” and the Byrds’ “She Don’t Care about Time”) don’t disservice the originals, but neither do they fall far from the tree, and perhaps it goes without saying, but Davis’ voice is no match for Springsteen’s. “Hello There” introduces a cleaned-up dance-punk bassline that might be the album’s most fun moment, but it’s kind of lost under the streamlined production. With almost every song after the first, I found myself thinking “this is good, but could be better if…”

Davis cites creative differences as the reason for his split with his Georgie James collaborator Laura Burhenn, but I wonder if a little more creative tension wouldn’t have pushed the possibilities of this music a little further. Georgie James had a little something extra, a little feel of unpredictablilty that Title Tracks desperatley needs. Davis also claims he was feeling angry when It Was Easy was written and recorded but you don’t get a sense of that in the music except on the slightly up-tempo “Found Out”, which ideally would be nearer the front of the album. And while “Black Bubblegum” features some accusatory lyrics, any frustrations that might have been unveiled are quickly effaced by the almost giddy chorus. In fact there are bitter lyrical runs throughout It Was Easy, but they slide by without making much of an impact thanks to the crisp production and Davis’ carefree, unaffected vocal style. The acoustic bedroom-recording style of “At Fifteen” is remarkable as the sole exception to this rule, and maybe the only song after the opener that you’ll be compelled to replay.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like on this album if you’re a power-pop maven. My criticisms with this are the same as the oft-repeated criticisms of the genre as a whole. Unless you’ve got the eye for detail and the knack for perfectly subtle imaginative flourishes that bands like the New Pornographers possess seemingly ad infinitum, it’s difficult to leave much of an impression — not even a bad one. It Was Easy is surely better than most power-pop being made, but that’s like saying an Orioles pitcher who gets sent down to AAA is still better than most pitchers — it’s true, but that guy used to be in the major leagues. And Davis used to be the drummer in one of the must singular and exciting bands around. He still makes excellently done music that, to be sure, will find a home in plenty of iPods. But most people won’t hear these songs unless it’s on shuffle, and then they’ll look down wondering: “Who is this again?…oh yeah, I remember, it’s Title Tracks…” A bit of knowledge you’ll retain just until the next song starts.

Label: Ernest Jennings Record Co.

Release date: 2010 Feb 23

Track list:

  1. Every Little Bit Hurts
  2. No, Girl
  3. Black Bubblegum
  4. Piles Of Paper
  5. Hello There
  6. Tougher Than The Rest
  7. Steady Love
  8. It Was Easy
  9. At Fifteen
  10. Found Out
  11. She Don’t Care About Time

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3 Responses to “Album Review: Title Tracks – It Was Easy (Ernest Jennings)”

  1. Nice analogy there.

    Let’s hope Davis doesn’t go the way of Daniel Cabrera and get lit up by the Albuquerque isotopes.

    On the other hand, maybe he’ll play my birthday party next year.

  2. Agree to disagree says:

    This album is more than just “mehh” in my opinion. Black Bubblegum and Piles Of Paper have been rattling around my head for months now. It’s very hard to write such memorable hooks.

  3. Greg Szeto says:

    I think the gems on this album really shine brightly. “Every Little Bit Hurts,” “Found Out,” “No Girl,” “Hello There,” and “Tougher Than The Rest” all ring really distinctly and addictively for me. But I can easily see Zack’s view as well.

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