Release Date: Nov 6th, 2012
Label: SonaBlast! Records
Where does a band that’s one part mainstream and one part “indie” fit within the music landscape today? People have always defined a piece of their own individuality by their choices in film, art, and music. More so than ever, it seems that groups/cliques are forming in masses around specific genres/trends of music to make an individual statement about themselves in the comfort of acceptance from other like-minded people. This allows for smug reassurance when labeling those who “discover” a band once they’re a mainstream darling, featured in commercials, playing sold-out large venue shows, and being pushed down suburban America’s throats by major labels in the form of pre-loaded Youtube ads. The question is then, what happens when a band makes mainstream music, but as independent artists?
My answer to this question is to tell you to look at a band like The Pass. Hank and I have been huge fans of The Pass since 2009 when we first saw a four piece of unassuming, khaki and dress shirt-clad guys playing infectious electro-pop with obvious jazz influenced backgrounds. It was a bizarre feeling hearing songs that could easily pop up on top-forty radio infused with moments of talented improvisation usually reserved for a different style of music. Since then they’ve released an EP, Colors, and their debut LP, Burst. Both are solid albums filled with catchy tunes, but it always felt like the band wasn’t quite comfortable with the two forces so clearly pulling them in opposite directions. Are they “indie” or are they going after a major label deal? What resulted were two albums that walked the line between the two worlds and left listeners polarized. The deep “indie” crowds rejected their looks and poppy sound, and as for more mainstream listeners, well, it's a bit tough to contact them outside of radio rotation buys or those pre-loaded Youtube ads the major labels seem so pleased with. Both avenues presented unique challenges. Which one did The Pass choose? The answer is that they didn’t choose, and as a result disappeared without a word for two years.
Then out of nowhere, The Pass started releasing songs in support of their second LP, Melt. The two singles “Without Warning” and “Alone Again” surprised my ears with more of a lean to mainstream rock. Both tracks held roots in a pop structure but the guitar and bass were front and center with the synth perfectly placed to make our toes tap without sacrificing a harder head nod. Frontman Kyle Peters seemed more confident highlighting his naturally mainstream sound rather than walking a line between “indie” cool and large expression radio friendly catchiness. It comes across as a screw it attitude, wherein Peters finally accepted his ability and let loose. Even with these two tracks indicating that the band was making what sounded like a major label album, I had no idea how important Melt would be until November, when the full album was released.
I say "important" fully knowing the weight the word carries when slapping it onto a musical release, and I'll even say it again: Melt is a very important record. It's important because no other album in 2012, or any year in recent memory, features such a successfully mainstream sound from a legitimately independent band. Despite the fact that these are guys making music out of their basement, there are shadows of a U2, or a cleaner Cure. And yet the only part of Melt that's truly top-forty-friendly is the clean, assertive, straight-forward vocals from Peters. The music itself is based in catchy rock elements that present themselves in a classical pop structure, but it's the confident patience of the music that distinguishes it from everything else like it. Melt allows its non-chorus moments to breathe and develop, showcasing the kind of innovative musicality championed by the indie scene. Hit mainstream songs today often rely on an aggressively catchy chorus sticking in your head for days to weeks, but on Melt, a subtle guitar line or singular synth hit does the job just as well, if not better.
The best example comes from my favorite track off Melt and top ten track of 2012 contender, “Real Summer.” The song brews for minutes, allowing for a slick synth line to patter with a seemingly innocent guitar lick that explodes here and there throughout the track. The song builds slowly, step by step, until right before the three minute mark when an electric guitar seems to ascend higher and higher as previously established crooning builds behind it. Just when the tension is about the snap, the song revisits its original ideas, this time with a vigor and attack that makes the song rage like a a tornado that swirls with fury right up until the last seconds hit and a brief period of calm sets in. And then, after that little gasp, the next track begins. It’s in this moment that it feels as if The Pass have finally put the frustrations of being caught between two musical worlds into their sound, and in doing so, have managed to transcend both of them.