You guys remember rock? The genre in which shirtless singers wear tight leather pants, do copious amount of drugs and are unabashedly cool? Rock has somewhat faded from the mainstream consciousness, but the music is far from dead. Last week, singer/songwriter Mike Krol, released one of the best rock records of this year: Power Chords. The project is loud, brash and still somehow grippingly tender.
The music is true to the title. Every song on this project is built on distorted, washed out power chords. It sounds a bit like The Strokes, if The Strokes did more cocaine and went absolutely haywire with the distortion. While the sounds on this project are dirty and grungy, the playing is mechanically timed. Every track on this project sounds like it was quantized by a computer. The effect is strange but interesting, with wild, growling guitars kept on a tight leash by the tempo.
Krol’s voice is surprisingly sweet. Where many rock singers tend toward detached, drawling vocals, Krol is earnest. The tenderness in his voice plays a perfect contrast to the violent wash of sound behind him; he sings despite the chaos.
The album cover shows Krol with a serious black eye and busted lip; he takes an absolute beating on this record. In lieu of waxing poetic, Krol writes lyrics about serious, significant damage to his body.
This whole album is about the visceral experience of heartbreak, loneliness and self-hatred. The lyrics are self-effacing, disparaging and just plain funny — for example, the line off of “An Ambulance:” “And I look much better / when I’m not laying / Face-down on the ground.” When he isn’t getting hurt, Mike talks about his paranoia and discomfort. On “Blue and Pink,” Mike can’t even take a walk outside of his house without thinking about how “every dog on this street / seems to hate me.”
The title track is one of the best on the project. The guitars have a gritty crunchiness and a full sound. There is a sense of pulsating, restrained aggression, which is built up by a bouncy bass line. The chorus is a wash of cymbals, guitars and snare rolls that feels overwhelming. On this track, Krol lays out the thesis of the project perfectly: “With a couple power chords / I’m going to let you know / That revenge is better / when you come from down below.”
“Little Drama,” the fourth track, is the perfect fighting song. Krol chameleons between his reserved singer/songwriter voice and a punk-rock, strained falsetto. Adrenaline spills out of every sound and flows from the speakers. By the end of this song you’ll feel absolutely exhausted.
“Nothing To Yell About” is another hectic, panic-driven song. One can imagine Krol is almost getting chased by the rapid drumming. The melodic theme on this track is punk-inspired, with a falsetto chorus that’s ironically nihilistic. The guitars on this track get slathered over with echo, chorus and flanger effects while going on with simple but effective fills.
“Arrow in My Heart” is the closest thing to a ballad on this project. The song is slower, with a simple chorus and knocking percussion, a heavy bass-line forming the cornerstone of the track. Only at the very end, when Krol seems to reach a breaking point, do the guitars open up, and the drummer starts smashing the crashes to finish the song with a beautiful breakdown.
“The End” is the perfect closing track to this project. Krol’s voice sounds like it’s coming from a broken megaphone. The melody is an absolute ear worm. The track, and the album, close out with a chord that spirals into complete distortion, finally fading out with amp feedback.
The only critique I could leverage at this project is that it’s a bit one-note. Every track blends into every other track. In writing this review, I had a hard time remembering which song was which. It would have been interesting to see Krol diverge from the dominant distorted sound and allow for some breathing room.
Otherwise, this is a great half-an-hour romp through brutally honest, loud, brash punk-rock tracks. Few albums are as action packed and high octane. The themes and emotions that Krol handles lyrically are universal, but he writes about them so cleverly and simply that they feel new.