The first song I heard by the A-Sides sure as hell lived up to the band’s name. Released in 2005, the sprightly “Sidewalk Chalk” seemed to combine everything I loved about British guitar music — and it was performed by five dudes from Philly, no less. Since then, the group has graduated to Vagrant Records from Scranton-based imprint Prison Jazz, making Silver Storms a prime opportunity for the band to construct a thrilling collection of A-sides and let ‘er rip.
But instead of doing what they do best, the band members seem bent on proving their maturity on Silver Storms.
“Say something cinematic/ or become a tragic figure/ who never never never says nothing to remember,” sings Jon Barthmus on “Cinematic,” effectively summarizing the group’s M.O. for this record.
Barthmus and his bandmates fail to realize, however, that the lyric is a quadruple negative: A band doesn’t have to sound overblown and widescreen for people to remember its music. From the long-form mediocrity of tunes like “Always in Trouble” and “Diamonds” to the orchestral melodramatics of closer “Sinking with the Ship,” the A-Sides seem to swing wildly for the fences at every turn, effectively sabotaging their chances of putting together a solid album.
When the musicians keep things simple, they fare far better. The galloping “We’re the Trees” and the subtle punch of “Great American Novelist” prove that the A-Sides are still a group with considerable pop smarts. If only they could drop all of the pretentious cinematography and give listeners a solid plot to follow, they’d be back in business.