A few months ago, Washington Social Club made an appearance on MTV’s Advance Warning, being hyped before their debut album, Catching Looks, was to be released. The segment cut back-and-forth between the band’s performance at South by Southwest and their offstage antics. Lead singer Martin Royle was never seen without sweatbands wrapped around his wrists and long strands of red hair. And Austin police issued a citation to their drummer for illegal use of a percussive instrument. Apparently, it’s not acceptable to go around with George W. Bush’s head on a snare drum that you let people whack for a dollar. It is a damn funny idea, though.
But their music was what garnered them the attention in the first place — witty, silly and altogether fun power pop. And that’s when it hit me — Washington Social Club are nerds. And I say that with the utmost respect and admiration. It takes a serious amount of nerdiness to make pop music that is this witty, silly and fun.
Catching Looks, their debut, lives up to the nerdy reputation that was presented on MTV just months ago. Leadoff track “On the Inside” is an immediate hit. Nothing but hooks, hooks and more hooks, with a little guitar jangle just for fun, the song is an irresistible introduction to the Club. And it proves that the only word that even remotely rhymes with “America” is “hysterical.”
“Breaking the Dawn” is a fine display of Royle’s lyrical wordplay. He alternates “your radio turned me on” with “your radio turned on me” in a brief tale of late night sex and inevitable break-ups. The band has an obvious affinity for Elvis Costello, as their punk-flavored pop style tends to sound quite similar to one Declan McManus. While most of the songs on Looks tend to resemble Costello’s rockers like “Radio, Radio” or “(What’s So Funny `bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” the reggae-flavored “Charlie the Russian” is more akin to “Watching the Detectives.”
And like all nerdy pop bands (read: They Might Be Giants, Fountains of Wayne), Washington Social Club take a shot at the hip club kids in “Modern Trance,” which might just be the best song on the album. But it’s hard to pick a favorite among so many irresistible tracks.
Washington Social Club are still a little green, but for a debut album, Catching Looks ain’t bad at all. There’s enough pop goodness to appease anyone’s power-pop jones, though at just over thirty minutes, the album is a little on the short side. After all, they’re not The Mars Volta. But those in need of some short, sharp and catchy pop music need look no further. God bless the nerds.
Matthew Sweet – 100% Fun
Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne
Elvis Costello – My Aim is True
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.