Monday, April 1, 2013

Westland - Intimacy w/o Intricacy

Westland - Intimacy w/o Intricacy - EP
Unsigned, 2013

Every once in awhile, a band comes along that feels like a collision of everything this scene is about, a band whose music reflects the records that made many of us fall in love with music in the first place and makes us feel like our younger selves again. A few years ago, that band was The Dangerous Summer, combining the likes of Taking Back Sunday, The Starting Line and Jimmy Eat World into an emotive blend of melodic pop rock. Last year, it was Daytrader, who took that Jimmy Eat World influence, drenched it in the dark atmospherics of their favorite Brand New records, and created something that was at once familiar and refreshing. And if I have to nominate a band for the title this year, then my earliest choice is Westland, a talented alt-pop group from Boston whose brand-new EP, entitled Intimacy w/o Intricacy, plays out like an infusion of the melodic sensibility of Sherwood and Good Old War, the radio friendly surge of All Time Low, The Maine, or Boys Like Girls, and a tinge of nineties radio rock.
Intimacy w/o Intricacy, only six songs and 20 minutes in length, acts less as a cohesive record and more like a sampling of everything Westland can do, but there’s nothing terribly wrong with that. We get the electronica-infused trance-ballad (“Slowly,” which carries the EP out in balladic ambiance); we get the slightly-generic play for modern-rock radio that is “For the Moment Star,” a song whose repetitive, “been there, done that” chorus nearly derails a foot-stomping guitar intro, strong verses, and a booming bass-line (courtesy of Nick Karidoyanes, who anchors the band on numerous occasions throughout this record). Still, frontman Aaron Bonus goes for broke here, bringing more than a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll edge to the proceedings, and while the song isn’t entirely successful on its own, it’s at least nice to know that this band, so good at dwelling in the earworm pop-punk department, isn’t afraid to turn the amplifiers up to 11.

But still, it’s hard to deny that Westland is at their best with a greater level of pop sheen behind them. Case-in-point is “Jack and Coke,” the first single from Intimacy and the band’s greatest bid for mainstream success. Building from a piano-heavy intro (one that nostalgically echoes Semisonic’s “Closing Time”), the song explodes into a visceral, shout-along chorus. Bonus’s voice soars on the high notes, the guitars crashing around him, and for an instant, Westland seem to have recovered the keys to Marty McFly’s DeLorean and gunned it to 88, taking us back to the golden age of pop punk. Indeed, the vast majority of Intimacy w/o Intricacy feels like something I would have been absolutely in love with when I was a freshman in high school. My tastes have moved forward quite a bit since then, but there’s still a lot to be said for a band that can generate such a clear frame of throwback nostalgia, especially when they didn’t even exist as a musical outlet when I was a freshman in high school (the band formed in 2009). I don’t know if I can quite explain the impact here, but rest assured that it’s a monumentally personal one, something that will keep me coming back to this record all year long, and I’d wager this band will do something similar to a lot of listeners from around here.

“Bleed” layers vocals, guitars, strings, and acoustics for a similar effect, though its chorus isn’t quite as meteoric as “Jack and Coke.” The song’s break sounds like something that wouldn’t have been out of place on Jimmy Eat World’s Stay on My Side Tonight EP, and the use of acoustic instrumentation, though minimal, is a nice change of pace that I’d challenge the band to explore further in the future. “Too Late,” meanwhile, is the catchiest song on the record, opening with a gorgeous pomp-and-circumstance swirl of piano and strings, and transforming into a Something Corporate-esque showstopper. Producer Shep Goodman, known for his work with pop bands and solo acts, works his magic here, surrounding the bus-sized chorus with the kind of pop sheen that could make the song a global hit. Certainly, the radio waves have rarely embraced our scene, but with a shifting mainstream music landscape that put fun. on top of the world last year and made bands a force to be reckoned with again, could the hopeless romantics in Westland find themselves notching some national success? With a set of songs as solid as Intimacy w/o Intricacy, I must confess that I’d be happy to see it happen.

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