Popular Mechanics' Anti-Glacial: Smart Songs, Rock Efficiency and Punk Wit
In his introduction to Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut talks about the futility of writing an antiwar book; he quotes a friend who asks, "Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?" Point being, wars are as easy to stop as glaciers, and both will persist despite our best efforts. But that was in 1969, and the title to Popular Mechanics' second LP, Anti-Glacial, could just as easily be a comment on melting ice caps and global warming.
It's a good bet, though, that this local quartet has more than a touch of Vonnegut's satiric humor in its bones, and the songs on this album take playful aim at workaday drudgery, faded rock stars and the inexorable march of time. The band couches these songs in a slightly sludgy but unfailingly melodic strand of power pop, and lead singer Dave Todd's delivery drips wryness but is never off-pitch. He's one of few local singers who can transmit such a clear persona through his voice, and that consistent narrator provides a coherent through line for much of the album.
You can thank an expanded version of Popular Mechanics for the growth shown since its 2010 debut Time and a Half, with second guitarist Andy Brandemeyer serving as a foil to Todd's brash chords and auxiliary keyboardist Chris Schott smoothing over the creases with a tasteful, unobtrusive organ. That growth extends to a more pop-savvy approach to the group's compositions; where the first album was indebted to a kind of Replacements/Hüsker Dü guitar-thrash, Anti-Glacial retains that energy but weaves in dynamic shifts and more complex arrangements.
The closest that Popular Mechanics comes to a ballad is at the album's midpoint, with the seemingly autobiographical "Composite Sketch," which shares a chord progression (and Mellotron-y vibe) with a 1967 Beatles or Zombies cut. The mood shifts immediately with the next track, a blistering takedown of an aging scenester called "Leatherman." (Sing it to yourself anytime someone waxes rhapsodic over the "old" Cicero's.) Such levels of snark can rub listeners the wrong way, but the best rock & roll is delivered with a sneer. Todd's occasional, and mostly harmless, posturing would be a deal breaker if the band didn't back it up with robust, smartly tuneful songs that are models of rock efficiency and punk wit.
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