Josh Smith’s transition from the Fucking Champs to the Makes Nice could be deconstructed in terms as simple as the contrast between the bands’ names: No longer in a grinding metal outfit with sparse vocals, Smith is now the melodic wailer of a psychedelic power trio. And he seems more comfortable belting out charming choruses (sometimes, as on “Enough Is Enough,” almost sounding like Roger Daltrey in his prime) and letting his guitar spearhead the lineup (which also includes drummer Jack Matthew of Bay Area soul outfit Ray Live in Concert and bassist Aaron Burnham), wisely omitting the Fucking Champs’ self-indulgent riffs.
At just longer than a half-hour, Candy Wrapper and Twelve Other Songs covers a surprising range of styles. “California Sun” and “Waves of Summer” are overtly indebted to the Golden State’s appeal. Matthew’s rhythm-and-blues chops aren’t overwhelming, yet they do divert some of the attention from Smith. “Anna Karina” contrasts from the similarly titled Tolstoy novel on many levels, but most notably in its uplifting brevity.
“Candy Wrapper,” the fourth cut here, is actually one of the album’s more forgettable tracks, and the band makes a few ill-advised detours into a lame pop music. Still, there is no getting around the band’s ethereal cheer-fans of the Fucking Champs will find no consolation in Smith’s resurfacing as the focal point of the Makes Nice-and it should be welcomed warmly by the Bay Area scene.