14 Jul, 2014

Bays Disappoints in Mounties

Steve Bays, the Canadian indie rock icon and frontman of Hot Hot Heat, has kept busy since putting Hot Hot Heat on hiatus in 2010. Bays has since started an experimental group called Fur Trade, been featured on a track by Steve Aoki, and more recently has been playing with his newest group called Mounties. Ryan Dahle and Hawksley Workman – both successful musicians in the Canadian realm – join Bays to make Mounties something of a supergroup. The group’s first full-length release, titled Thrash Rock Legacy, finds Steve Bays to be sonically repressed and bland. He has taken a step backwards from Hot Hot Heat’s 2010 release, Future Breeds.

future breedsFuture Breeds bursts with creative and intricate additions to Hot Hot Heat’s previously somewhat static dance-punk sound. The album is rife with these additions, which include scrapyard-electronic loops, acoustic guitar riffs sandwiched between synth lines, and 5/4 time (in which the lead single is written). More than anything else, though, Bays’ vocal and lyrical work steals the spotlight. He delivers syncopated and memorable lyrics like “You, me, and the devil makes three / but that’s still two too many for me” that truly show that the acme of Bays’ musical progression surely lies within Future Breeds. Unfortunately, only a glimmer of that glory can be heard in Mounties.

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Thrash Rock Legacy proves to be a comprehensive indie rock album with it’s roots in the realms of dance-punk and electro-tinged rock, but it doesn’t live up to the standard that Bays previously set. It’s immediately apparent that Bays’ once standout vocals have lost their edge; instead of piercing falsettos and urgent mumbles, Bays keeps his vocal in a comfortable range. Those safe vocal stylings serve as a vessel for equally disappointing lyrics that stay away from the fringes. Four years ago, Bays sang of the furtive dealings of a married man and of JFK’s LSD, but today listeners can just hear Bays perfunctorily describe how often he wears his headphones. The album’s vocal tracks also seem to chug along independently from its instrument tracks. Where before Bays capitalized on interplay between vocals and instrumentation via syllable alterations and back-and-forth passages, he now seems content to let the two entities only loosely orbit around one another.

Instrumentation by Mounties is also a slight let-down. The trio of Canadian music veterans wield their instruments in a way that presents somewhere between uninspired and passable. The keyboard, guitar, and drum tracks are often quotidian and seem destined for standard alternative satellite radio play. The element that Mounties are lacking in their sound is the calculated chaos that permeated Future Breeds. Hot Hot Heat’s last recordings cod foment a frenzy in any teenager because Bays could unleash a targeted cascade of raw dance-punk idiosyncrasies. He seemingly doesn’t even redirect his frenetic creativity through Mounties, or even harness it completely.

This isn’t to say that Thrash Rock Legacy amounts to a hill of beans or that Mounties is a fatuous waste of musical talent. For fans of Hot Hot Heat and Steve Bays, Thrash Rock Legacy is worth a listen. It is a commonplace alternative pop album, however, and it proves to disappoint in comparison to the bold and progressed final album that Bays created with Hot Hot Heat.

Review by Kevin Kohl.

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