Stairwell is Southern California’s mall-punk wearing a Fountains of Wayne T-shirt at the opening credits of a teenage splooge comedy — shit that has good intentions but is not what you want at all.
It’s fine to bank on the idea of simple, fun, stress-demolishing summer guitar music made by five friends and the guy who produced Dashboard Confessional. But this is a long way from Big Star easy fuzz. The guitars are flat, sitting there glued to a crowded space of pause-y, feedback-free safe chords. What’s not here, anywhere, is sweetly stupid power-pop maneuvering and look-at-me-riffs — those fun-plush mounded licks that fill your world with pogo-hugging and that kind of sound like rock but not quite.
Jonathan Caro, the band’s frontman, sings awkward lyrics with an Orange County whine. From the sound of it, Stairwell, recently signed to Hopeless Records, doesn’t like mass-markets and nu-romance, but they do like to use words like “cuz” and “Cali.” In a song called “Walk All Over,” which is middling and tinny, there’s a couplet that goes, “Red was the color she gave me/ Stoplight that changed all too soon.”
Everything here fails with predecessor fandom. “The Sounds of Change,” an inaccurate title, is made with big mental collections of indie, pop, and pre-metal ’90s alternative rock, but without any idea of what makes indie, pop, or pre-metal ’90s alternative rock interesting.