After all the dance-punk, no wave and avant-garde artists have arisen out of the five boroughs, one has to wonder, can New Yorkers still bring the pure rock? Earl Greyhound answer with a resounding yes. This hard-charging trio out of Brooklyn is the real deal, the kind of band that will at once assault your ears with gritty rock and roll, dazzle you with superior production values and cradle and caress you with silky smooth vocals. Earl Greyhound is all of this and more. Their debut, Soft Targets, is that perfect combination, the delicate balance between the glory of guitar rock, the intricacy of indie aesthetic values and the sweet sounds of musical seduction.
Guitarist / vocalist Matt Whyte, bassist / vocalist Kamara Thomas and drummer Ricc Sheridan make up Earl Greyhound, the cheeky play on words that references two things notably `English.’ Earl Grey tea and Greyhound racing are both, while not necessarily native, at least indicative of English culture. What better name for a band that is sleek, strong, fast and influenced by the best of ’70s British rock. Earl Greyhound indeed, at most times, recalls T. Rex and Led Zeppelin, among others, but update that sound for today’s discerning rock fan. When New York rears such amazing talent as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio and the Hold Steady, you best come strong with something that’ll wow the audience, and that’s exactly what EG does so well.
Opener “S.O.S.” is straight out of Electric Warrior with its buzzsaw guitars, thunderous drums and Matt Whyte’s glossy glam vocals. Then, just at less than three minutes in, there’s a vocal harmony that would do an Elliott Smith album proud. After that, Whyte brings on the rock falsetto that would turn Freddie Mercury’s head. In all, there are about four distinct parts to “S.O.S.,” all fitting into one blistering whole. After only one song, I was asking myself, `what can’t Earl Greyhound do?’ “All Better Now” rockets along in a more playful manner, and then “It’s Over” shows a more restrained side to Earl Greyhound with a smoky and delicate vocal balance between Whyte and Thomas. The choruses are pure rock and pop magic.
“Like a Doggy” combines the pop songcraft of Big Star with the guitar assault of AC/DC. That may not sound like a workable combination, but believe me, Earl Greyhound not only pull it off, they make it sexy. “Monkey” is the centerpiece of the album, and at over eight minutes is a rock and roll epic. Fans of Zeppelin take note, Wolfmother may have the wail, but Earl Greyhound has the majesty. Sheridan and Thomas are like the indie Bonham and Jones, providing a steady drum and bass attack, while Whyte reminds us all why electric guitars are so damn cool. After that, EG proves that the Beatles are as much an influence as the mighty Zep with the melodic rocker, “Good.” At this point in the album, I start to ask myself the same question I asked after “S.O.S.” and still have no discernable answer.
When you combine melody with hard rock, as is done with “Good” and its follow-up, the equally infectious “Back and Forth,” featuring Thomas on lead vocals for one verse, there is almost nothing you can’t do. Of course, sometimes the result can be disastrous, but Earl Greyhound put on a master class for the subject. Thomas takes her own turn on the equally impressive “Yeah I Love You,” proving that Whyte’s not the only talented singer in the band. Closers “Fashion,” “Two Weeks” and “I’m the One,” the latter being a near dead-on homage to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” go to show that EG doesn’t lose steam over the course of an entire album.
Lenny Kravitz got very popular combining the guitar antics of hard rock ’70s bands with the melodic feel of the ’60s pop bands. But Earl Greyhound’s Soft Targets has taken a step forward as if to say, `move over Lenny, this is how it’s done.’ From the first song, the aggressive “S.O.S.,” Earl Greyhound hit the track running and never let up. I think now that those Soft Targets referred to in the album title are the listener’s ears, which could end up bursting with pure joy.
T. Rex- Electric Warrior
Smashing Pumpkins- Gish
Led Zeppelin- In Through the Out Door