Review: Accidental Superhero – Full Circle

For those who do not know, New Jersey — in addition to being the home of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi — is the breeding ground for one of the largest and most lucrative cover band scenes in the country. And while summer movies inevitably stop being topical in August or September, many clubs along the Jersey Shore celebrate the bustling season 12 months of the year, inviting in scores of bands to hammer out the familiar hits of whoever is big on the radio at the time and whoever can get people feeling like extras in “The Endless Summer.”

Don’t get me wrong, these bands are often talented and professional acts, frequently able to mimic the sounds as well as the mannerisms of the Dave Matthews and Matchbox Twentys and Linkin Parks of the world. But the familiarity of their act and their schtick can become too safe and predictable, especially once the draft beer of summer begins to go flat.

While they do write and perform their own material, Colorado’s Accidental Superhero could be right at home in the cover band scene of The Garden State. The band is a tight, guitar-driven quartet that knows how to milk the hooks, how to get a crowd jumping with a big chorus, how to cool things down with an acoustic-ish ballad or two, and how to inject the right scratches and production tricks. But they also feel like they’re nothing really new, and you’ve heard them before, reminiscent of the background music of a summer blockbuster superhero movie or the soundtrack to some gun-toting video game. (Not surprisingly, as an aside, the band has contributed four tracks to the X-BOX game Project Gotham II.)

That being said, the band’s debut — Full Circle — is a sharp collection, if you’re into this type of music. The production and recording are top-notch, with every note ringing out for just the right length of time and clever — though, again, sometimes familiar — little devices being laid throughout the songs to offer depth and a vaguely hip-hop edge. Thanks to the recording quality, the band is able to quickly cut between soaring, distortion-drenched choruses and strange bridges with electronically assisted back-beats and acoustic guitars.

The high points, however, just may be the songs that aren’t bulked up to sound like the radio-friendly singles. Surrounded by more aggressive fare, “14 Miles” is a bouncy song, starting with a Dave Matthews acoustic groove and descending into choruses where multiple vocal leads tease the ear. Again, the quality of the recording is key, and keeps the song from falling into chaos. (Sadly, the band throws in a bridge of turntable scratches right in the middle of the song, which feels both forced and insincere.)

“Sweet Castaway” is similar, with an acoustic guitar initially leading the way through a bouncy give-and-take that seems to hint at Smashmouth as much as it does Barenaked Ladies. Another bright point could be “So Easy.” Though it’s just as digestible as some of the record’s obvious singles — check out the first song, kids, “Hurt Me Badly” — the jagged, stop-and-start of the distorted verses works well.

Without punning on the band’s name too much, the record is not without its unplanned little disasters. About halfway through the disc, it starts to feel as if every song could be labeled as either “loud” or “quiet” (or variations on both: loud-quiet, quiet-loud-quiet-loud, et cetera) as the aforementioned superheroes have a tendency to re-utilize forms and formulas. Again, though, this is not music you would seek out or listen to if you’re looking for a sense of complicated, groundbreaking composition. This is music you listen to when you go out to a bar and toss back a Yuengling or a discounted draft beer on the Jersey Shore. If that’s your thing, well, this band’s for you.

As a postscript, despite the attention to quality production, there is one thing that does not seem to work about Full Circle. After the close of the 12th track, we’re fed a lengthy answering machine from one of the band members — describing a song on which they’re working, he says, appropriately, “It’s cool. It’s catchy.” — and then over 15 minutes of extra material. Well, maybe “extra” isn’t the right word. After a 45-minute string of three-minute pop rock nuggets, we’re simply invited to revisit them really, as if the band wants to make sure we remember what they sound like. (Get it: full circle?) So, there’s a pseudo-remix of the single “Hurt Me Badly” and then what sounds like an exact replica of the third track, “Lay Down Your Head.” After another brief pause, it’s a live track whose recording pales to the rest of the record and then … back to the audio tape. We have a minute or so of someone singing over an answering machine, possibly an extension of the message that kicked off the “hidden” tracks.

It’s an interesting way to close the record, but it feels like an afterthought, something the band tacked on to add a personal touch to a genre of music that can border on the faceless and nameless. Too bad. American Superhero may make its own name without having to try much more. And even if they don’t, they’ve already documented their existence as a band who know the power of a good hook now and then. – Delusions of Adequacy, Aug. 11, 2003

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