No pedal to the metal but hearts on sleeves
Twist the Lens - The Pedaljets (Electric Moth Rcords)
The Pedaljets are Midwestern rock veterans who formed in Kansas City in 1984. In 2020 they’re still in Kansas, at least for recording purposes. This album was produced in Shawnee, KS by their former guitarist Paul Malinowski and he did a great job. It leaps out at you. They sound as modern as tomorrow and as rock as they ever did, but with some welcome twists and turns along the way.
As contemporaries and tour partners of the top level of '80s US alternative bands – The Replacements, Husker Du, The Flaming Lips – they put out a couple of albums and did a lot of touring. Somehow they didn’t break through to that R.E.M. next level, and pulled the pin out of frustration. Two decades later they returned to the studio and have released a couple of albums in the last 10 years, including this absolute belter.
Laying my cards on the table right now. This album has both bowers, Ace, King, and Queen. These guys have been around the block several times and they keep coming back for more. They’re veterans without being jaded – although they can sound that way when they choose to. Hearts are on sleeves throughout this journey. I can’t recommend this album highly enough.
The obvious comparisons are The Replacements, Tom Petty, Iggy Pop, Wilco, and Big Star, with a little Velvet Underground in the mix. Singer Mike Allmayer pulls off a Paul Westerberg/Iggy Pop vibe throughout and his guitar intertwines beautifully with that of Cody Wyoming, who joins the band on this album and also contributes synths and vocals. Original rhythm section Matt Kesler on bass, guitar and vocals and Rob Morrow on drums, percussion piano and vocals seal and send everything your way. Additional guitar, synth, and piano come from Michael Dulin and Paul Malinowski.
Released on the wonderfully named Electric Moth Records, "Twist The Lens" has the fire and desire – which parents of kids a certain age should recognise from “Sing”. Let me tell you, that’s the level of enthusiasm here. Track-by-track:
- "Disassociation Blues." The opening cut storms out of the gate like an updated Replacements, sounding fresh and modern but with that 80s Mats midwestern twang, anchored by a rock solid beat.
- "Placid City Girl". This has a Tom Petty/Wilco feel with lovely backing vox in the chorus, which ends with a sweet descending guitar figure. The bridge screams several eras of Byrds.
- "Down Town". There’s a song title that’s never been used before. 'Mats all the way here, energy and a raw feel. You can sense the fun being had in the studio. The lyric about being “Wild In The Streets” is no accident.
- "Uncounted Heads". A short, gentle start before it stumbles sweetly into a mod/pop swinger that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on Sydney’s The Smart Folk’s 2019 banger "Yesterday Repeating". I thought that immediately and still do on repeated listens. It has a positive feel and a powerpop heart.
- "Loved A Stone". Fans of the 1986 classic movie "Withnail And I" will remember Uncle Monty’s failed seduction of Marwood accompanied by the seductive question “Are you a sponge…or a stone?”. This song bemoans being in love in the latter situation and at 2:34 it doesn’t outstay its rocking welcome.
- "Transfer Is Done". Taking it back a notch, a gentler feel and a hint of Sparklehorse or Camper Van Beethoven, which is no bad thing. The chorus has an early R.E.M. vibe.
- "This Is Sepsis". Standing out like dogs’ balls amidst the overall 8'0s Americana feel of this album, this one reeks of the Cramps and the swamp. They do it well but it does break up the flow of an otherwise fairly consistent sound. I dig it, but that riff is like nothing else here.
- "One Away". Punchy jangle but not the highlight. My wife said “this sounds like Franz Ferdinand” and seeing as she doesn’t speak German, I assume she means the band. I’d agree with that assessment on this one.
- "Sleepy Girl". Jangly Camper Van Beethoven meets The Smithereens, wistful and lovely, bittersweet and soaked in experience.
Dawn is filled with idiots that sleep with girls they don’t understand
A droning solo leads into a Beatleish feel and an R.E.M. close-out.
- The title track steps it up a notch into Husker Du meets Iggy’s poppier territory. Great guitars and solid rhythm with a catchy chorus.
- "What Only Cats Chase". Elegiac acoustic ballad with piano and a hit of strings in the intro. Think early 70s Bowie vibe, the slow burners. “Yes I know about you” is sung with conviction. We’ve all been there.
What to do about loneliness/It’s preposterous/The anger sets in as the day fades
I wish I’d written that.
- "The Fader". Just when you think they’ve done the old 70s classic rock album trick and wafted out on a ballad, they come roaring back to life with one last rocker, letting you know the old dog has nine lives – if you’ll excuse the mixed metapurr.
Pedaljets clearly have a lot of love for what they do and if you listen to this album a few times, you will too. As I said, I didn’t know they existed until now, but I’ve already been YouTube-ing through their back catalogue - and I think this album could inspire you to do the same.