“Never judge a book by its cover”, an old adage that is apt in assessing not just Metalmania, the new album by Salad Boys, but Salad Boys themselves. With a name like Salad Boys, you might think the band makes low-brow, whimsical music. A record title like Metalmania might further elicit images of Mastodon or more contemporary hardcore rock like Swans or Deafheaven. Neither, of course, is true.
From Christchurch and Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island, Salad Boys have created a melodic, indie-rock album with Metalmania that recalls the glory days of college radio – i.e., the early ’80s. The one track that fully encapsulates the trio’s purpose with Metalmania is the R.E.M.-esque “No Taste Bomber”. From Joe Sampson’s awesome hooks and deadpan vocals that mirror Peter Buck and Michael Stipe, respectively; the awesome bass line of Ben Odering where he does his best Mike Mills impersonation; and the pace set by the drumming of Jim Nothing that matches Bill Berry’s rawness, the song is a blistering, driving song. “No Taste Bomber” is a fantastic song that would seamlessly fit right in on R.E.M.’s masterful Murmur.
There are even hints of another great college radio band – Dinosaur, Jr., although more of the solo efforts of bandmates J. Mascis and Lou Barlow. The opening track, “Here’s No Use” is a warm, midtempo rocker that echoes of Barlow’s side project, Sebadoh, while “Better Pickups” resonates with the lush, melodic rock of Mascis and some terrific guitar work much like the bearded master himself.
With “Bow to Your New Sensation”, Salad Boys have created a fantastic, slow-building rocker that is one part Velvet Underground and another part early Wilco, particularly with Sampson’s voice taking on Jeff Tweedy’s growling vocals. If the song had a more cathartic and buzzsaw guitar solo that Nels Cline has trademarked, it could very well have been in Wilco’s catalog. “Daytime Television” is maybe the most whimsically sounding song. Predominantly an acoustic indie-rock tune, the dashes of the Commodore 64 in the middle stanzas provide a Talking Heads-like feel in order to reflect how technology has changed the way people interact.
There is one true rocker on the album and that fittingly is “I Am A Mountain”. The basslines and guitar riffs are deeper and heavier, and Sampson’s vocals are shallower. Lyrically, Sampson repeats the same seven words for nearly the entire 3 minutes and 16 seconds, but it’s the music and the band just letting loose that take center stage. Every album needs that one rocker, just as much as every music fan and collector needs to have that one college radio album. For today’s younger generation, Salad Boys’ Metalmania could be the answer, as they resuscitate an era that helped form modern indie-rock.
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