I still harbor conflicted emotions about Mick Jagger Solo Album, the A-for-effort 2016 LP of synthetic pop from House & Hawk. At times inventive and at times oddly polished, the disc kind of wobbled somewhere between interesting and really good, and its larger experiments were worth taking in, yes, but not always worth revisiting.
So, it should go without saying that I’d be happy beyond words that the core of the group – endearing multi-instrumentalists Alexander Strung and Steve Ninehouser – is welcoming the 2020s by returning to more organic roots on the Pure Emotion EP, which Pittsburgh’s Heavy River released on New Year’s Day. Right?
Well, it feels a little bit like a mixed blessing. For the record, yes yes yes, there are songs on this EP that will make you celebrate the return-to-roots tone-age of it all, without question. Opener “You Leave Me No Choice,” where drummer Randall Rosenquist offers spare interjections of percussion, is riveting, get-this-over-airwaves-NOW stuff, with the gently finger-picked acoustic guitar and thrumming piano chords offering their own kinds of counter-melodies. And the palm-muting of “Heinous Bloke,” combined with Strung’s rumbly timbre, is wonderfully ominous. (The occasional drum roll, almost tribal, don’t hurt either.)
On the second half of the seven-song EP, though, things go off the rails a bit. “Thrillseekers,” with its raggedy Crazy Horse electric guitars, is slightly out of place, both in tone and in the emotions it’s chasing, and the fact that it occasionally flashes an earwig or two is almost beside the point. The excellent, enveloping “Open The Safe,” second from the end, will speak to your limbs – there’s a burbling synth line overlaid on the “closing” bridge, itself three-quarters of the song, that’s simply divine. But closer “Pictures of the Sky” doesn’t quite land the 1-2 punch, focusing on jangly proto-grunge balladry instead of rushing to the song’s finest point, a bridge where Strung’s vocals cut loose and soar above the noise. A lost opportunity.
All in all, it’s a fine, fine outing well worth the download and I, for one, welcome House & Hawk back from their experimentations in more abstract synth-work. The fact that this thing is name-your-own-price online definitely ups the desirability factor. And, yes, the new EP has some incredible moments, for sure. But I’m resolved to hold my breath a little bit and see what these guys do next.