The title says it all. Fitting quite nicely with the band’s name, the Ex-Boyfriends’ record is essentially a set of breakup letters and anecdotes of heartbreak told from different times and places. Skirting right past the risk of sounding hopelessly cheesy and contrived, however, these “Dear Johns” are backed with infectious and upbeat power pop that is much more fun to experience than any breakup I’ve ever had (maybe that’s not saying much, since breakups always suck, but nonetheless, the comparison is still appropriate). Bringing something else that is slightly less typical to the rock music table, the Ex-Boyfriends are a gay male pop-punk trio based in San Francisco, participating in local queer rock shows and performing at gay biker bars, as well as other well-established San Francisco venues. Thus, the stereotype of rock stars making crazy sex tapes with Paris Hilton and Shannon Doherty-types doesn’t quite apply here.
Working together since 2003, the Ex-Boyfriends came together, appropriately enough, after their former groups (Amscray and Crowns on 45) broke up. Creating an album that is glorious in its simplicity, Dear John is a danceable and contagious set of music, reflecting themes of naïve love and schoolboy fantasy through sharp lyrics, howling vocals, and firm instrumentation. Guitarist Colin Day’s vocals are mostly reminiscent of Steve Bays’ steady and melodic wailing in Hot Hot Heat, and he is backed up solidly by bassist Peter Harb and drummer Chris Ohnesorge, whose collective sound can be primarily associated with that of Diamond Nights. The songs on the album can be plainly separated into upbeat (“Him for Me,” “Relationship,” “Stop, Drop, Rock ‘N Roll,” “P.S.”) and down-tempo (“Well, William,” “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” “I’m”), and when listened to as a whole are relatively parallel to one another – similar to Bloc Party’s method of constructing a respectable and enjoyable pop record.
Overall, it’s refreshing to hear an album and a band that chooses one theme and sticks to it, allowing for straightforward progression of quality through minimalism. The Ex-Boyfriends do not necessarily create a sound on Dear John that we haven’t heard before, but the album is nonetheless a fun and worthy listen. The music is accessible on another level because the band brings together infectious beats with a relatable theme, therefore allowing them to create their own little niche in the huge world of pop music. Who knew that breaking up could be so fun?
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
Diamond Nights – Popsicle
Hot Hot Heat – Make Up the Breakdown