This letter serves to send word to the band and your multiple publicity-courtin' machines that I won't be covering the upcoming Mother Hips shows in April at the Independent. I've gotten all the informational blasts from your supporters these past few months: E-mails from your friendly label guy, e-mails from the friendly promoter, e-mails from the friendly national publicist. Always friendly, but persistently pushing me to cover the band even if I'm not "a big fan of the new record," which I'm not. There are others who very well could like Kiss the Crystal Flake say, as noted by the PR folks, one of our freelancers, or the California cosmic music appreciation society, or Subaru-driving grass-smokers entering a second round of parenthood.
Hey, I get the whole Mother Hips thing. Here you have an old-school Chico crew that's been around since '91, and after six years of semi-hiatus returns to offer breezy, twang-toned power pop (and a smidge of cowbell). But listening to Kiss puts me in an odd position. Here's one of our local sacred cows, right? Which I assume is partially where all the e-mail nudgery is coming from. But sometimes the cows are just fine out there in the pasture. Or at least just performing without an obligatory cover-these-guys-'cause-we-should review performing for their loyal fans who are totally cool with a weekend of polite swaying in place. But I'm not one of the swaying, or swayed.
Kiss the Crystal Flake "first new LP since 2001" kicks in with influences close to my junior high cassette collection, bands I appreciate to this day: Tom Petty, the Band, the Eagles, the Stones. "White Headphones" begs for Mick Jagger's pouty drawl to topple that nasty guitar distortion. If only Kiss contained more nasty, more distortion, more letting loose, and less of the ever-patient-always-pleasant-middle-aged-alt-country-pushover vibe. The chorus on "White Headphones" could get boomer Stones fans juiced, and the piano coda leaves the song with a dusty roadhouse vibe. But the lyrics flatline where's the libidinous charge in a story of a chick on the N Judah rocking earbuds?
The track that really elicits the cringe, though, is "Let Somebody." It's one of a couple smooth-rock cuts and I'm not talking about that Hall & Oates irony jumping out from dive-bar jukeboxes these days. This particular song takes me back to a time of blatant, avert-thine-eyes earnestness back to being a youngun' in Walnut Creek in the '70s, when my parents lined their shelves with vinyl containing similar rosé lyrics to yours: I don't want to let our love break down, it's the realest feeling I have found. If you want to get touched you've got to let somebody. It's just all so ... earthy, guys. Too earthy. Numbers like this make the Posies sound like the Pixies.
C'mon fellas. People fuck. They don't touch and make love. OK, maybe they do that, but when they do, the last thing they want is some pop fondue about attempting to lay your uptight lady. If you're going to make cheesy rock ballads, at least use sharp cheddar.
I don't want to come off here as a perennial hater of the subtle, heart-pinching pop some of my favorite locals, from Vetiver to Kelley Stoltz, nuance mellow instrumentation into emotional balladry. And there's worse out there, for sure. Your harmonies are warm and well worn; "In This Bliss" makes fine use of a horn section; and I'll take the Mother Hips over, say, another bombastic Fall Out Boy ambush. There's also something to be said for a rock band that doesn't pretend to be anything beyond the music it creates: even if said mush is nothing but flaccid nostalgia.