It seduced Kerouac easily enough. All that hot black pavement, stretching out for miles and miles, cooking up all sorts of heady mirages: fame, escape, freedom, possibility. The road. A great way to get the hell out, and eventually carve out a path triumphantly or sheepishly back home. For a number of artists (including members of one of my most-beloved, mid-90s college-rock bands, For Squirrels), the road has occasioned funerals. The road is how your favorite mid-level bands continue to earn a modest living. But, for all its pros and concrete, the road has offered songwriters a valuable gift indeed: the inspirational goldmine of yet another love/hate relationship.
Limbeck, the power-pop-turned-newbie-alt-rock-dabbling quartet from Southern California, has transformed its ambivalent relationship with the open road into Hi, Everything’s Great, a stunning 12-song audio-postcard from God-knows-which-truck-stop in Middle America. This is the kind of record that should be engineered to only work properly in car stereos. On blue sky days, air whipping in through open windows, hair flying manic, one hand on the wheel, the other surfing a breeze outside. The red-faced executive in the Audi parked next to you at some red light, shooting you homicide-ways glances because your stereo is drowning out his beloved Kenny G. This is the kind of record that even self-conscious, tone-deaf people sing along to at the top of their lungs. Because they just can’t help it, bless their hearts.
The opening track, “Honk + Wave,” kicks off unassumingly with front man Robb MacLean lamenting a broken heart over the methodically grooving strum of a cleanly played electric. Most notably, this song lives and breathes as a result of the genius of drummer Matt Stephens. I’m not a drummer, yet I fell in love with the bloody high-hat part, the way it nonchalantly charts off-beats for half of the song’s intro. Then it begins dropping its metallic clap on every beat, causing the song to steadily gain momentum until the 47-second mark when he switches over to toms and all heaven breaks loose. The rest of the song is noisy, amps-to-eleven, pop-rock bliss: imagine for a moment, if you will, a band called Fountains of Wilco. Now you’re getting the idea.
The rest of the album follows a similar template—good song after good song after good song. Tunes so infectious you’ll inevitably show up in the emergency room at some point, begging to have a doctor surgically remove them from your skull. But, thank heaven, there’s actually some real meat to accompany all that scrumptious melody. MacLean manages to subdue nostalgia and make something useful of it, instead of resorting to the typical mélange of wistful ruminations on last week and yesteryear and halcyon whatnot. The emotions here are compelling and honest, not factitiously assembled to merely fill space between measures and float melody lines.
Hi, Everything’s Great feels less like a tidy scrapbook and more like a cigar box overflowing with hastily shot Polaroids—a girl named Julia with a colorful past (“Yeah, Julia is so smart / She used to be a goth kid”), a girl named Emily with colorful arms (“It feels like I got so old last night in Ohio / Emily had tattoos on her arms / I don’t have none on mine / She said she’s from Virginia / But now it’s Ohio”), a musician yawning behind the wheel of a van at some ungodly hour (“So I’ll just keep taking the 15 through / It’s kind of early so I’m swerving / There’s really nothing else to do except sit and keep steering / Thinking, driving”).
This record makes me long for the open road, or at least for a longer commute to work.