Release Date: Sep 27, 2011
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Think of the best rock bands of the ’90s—Smashing Pumpkins, Wilco, Blur, Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine, for a few—Big Troubles sound like all of them, but more. They hit that special spot of generating what at first might seem like genre resurrection, but every squelchy guitar roar is squelchier, somehow more dripping with that perfect gauze of distortion. It’s the songs alone that kill you on Romantic Comedy, and that’s a good thing.
Big Troubles sound like the kind of band that defined your teenage years. Whether you were too scrawny to run a football to the other side, or your reputation hangs in the balance over whether or not you’ll get invited to the big dance, the New Jersey foursome most likely have an anthem to soundtrack that hopeless climax before everything gets resolved in the end. They’re like the noughties incarnation of Revenge of the Nerds – sophisto Millennials urgently scavenging through college rock’s back pages to retreat from what feels like perpetual heartache.
After releasing an LP where Big Troubles’ Ian Drennan and Alex Craig recorded the songs in their respective bedrooms and traded tapes back and forth, their second album, Romantic Comedy, is a much more polished affair recorded in an actual studio with a name producer (Mitch Easter) and contributions from the rest of the band (drummer Sam Franklin and bassist Luka Usmiani). Almost out of necessity the record has a less noisy, less cheap sound and feel. No longer do the bandmembers bury their vocals and melodies under waves of staticky guitar noise and crappy-sounding drums; instead, the inherent autumnal loveliness is loud and clear.
Second albums are, of course, notoriously tricky things. If you’re lucky your debut will have made a splash of a size reasonable enough to train more of the blogosphere’s myriad bodiless eyes towards you, unblinkingly watching and waiting for your next move. At least, that’s what I imagine it feels like. The question is whether to stick or twist – carry on the formula that made you popular in the first place, or sidestep into new territory.
There's a great bit in Patton Oswalt's latest special that begins with him auditioning for the role of "gay best friend" and ends with a monkey explosively defecating on camera. Obviously, he got from Point A to Point B explaining how romantic comedy isn't even really an artistic genre so much as a strict format whose monetary success is predicated on telling people what they're getting and then giving them exactly what they want. While Romantic Comedy is too scrappy and bummed-out for usage in cute montages anytime soon, Big Troubles' sophomore LP and first for Slumberland is still every bit as beholden to an overt sense of values: If 1990s indie revivalism gets you going like seeing Jennifer Aniston and some other dude find true love does, it's easy to imagine a tagline saying "from the people who brought you the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the producers from Brighten the Corners…" doing its risk-free aspirations justice.
The boys of New Jersey’s Big Troubles take a second dip into the indie pop pool with Romantic Comedy, a record that doesn’t offer any big surprises but manages to match the enjoyability of their debut. The charming, noisy production that gave the first record, Worry, a Loveless-on-a-budget feel has disappeared but has been replaced with an unobstructed view of the band’s noteworthy songwriting ability. The songs on Romantic Comedy generally waver between two sounds: Some have a sensitive, retro-pop feel most comparable to indie rock’s current spotlight-gobblers, Girls, while others take a harder-edged guitar rock route.
A complete absence of originality spoils this set from the Brooklyn four-piece. Brad Barrett 2011 Representing the almost omnipresent slacker aesthetic with an Angelfire website, which is funny but actually pretty irritating, and a sound casually borrowed from a range of fuzzy popsters from Best Coast to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Big Troubles truly have nothing to say. Their tunes on this, their second long-play set, are pretty in parts but are merely exhaled out with an awful affected whispered voice.