When a band leaves the suburbs, the suburbs usually leave the band. The city has a way of sapping the very special sense of innocence -- too potent to be punk and too genuine to be mainstream -- from the figurative veins of our generation’s garage bands, especially those just outside Boston’s limits.
Somewhere between grunge and nu metal, the cosmos created the ideal conditions for a youthful music community in which punk was the catalyst, even though its patrons couldn’t tell a Sex Pistol from a Stooge. But in most cases, somewhere between the suburbs and the heart of Boston, that intangible element is lost. The constantly stirring city eliminates the gnawing worry that everything is happening everywhere else at every given moment -- a trademark of suburban adolescence and the foundation of its music scene. The city provides a sense of liberty, a comfy reassurance that authority figures have better heads to step on, and easy access to things that might do a more immediate job of gumming up voids, whatever they may be.
Something Sneaky’s debut LP, No Opinion Needed, is an opportunity for the lost -- or, perhaps, displaced -- souls of the city to recapture some of that suburban innocence with more discerning ears and volumes of nostalgic reference points. The songwriting is poignant and pointed, cynical without expressly saying so and composed to a degree of professionalism that few mantle-shaking teens could hope or want to achieve. But the fact that the members of Something Sneaky are well enough into their 20s not to look back doesn’t diminish the suburban and uniquely Millennial principles of No Opinion Needed. Neither does the fact that the band has bounced from the South Shore to Allston to Quincy and back, storming through the city’s small clubs and bars along the way.
“Camera Man” opens the album with an ambush of rowdy guitars anchored by a blues-via-punk riff that sticks to the corners of your skull like fat. The lyrics, like most throughout the album, juxtapose concrete, often biting, exclamations with enigmatic imagery in a very Archers of Loafian manner. Singer/guitarist/principle songwriter Justin Iacovino barks “I’m the...man” to establish a sharp reference point for more abstract lines like “The camera man, he can make a stand if the spider can.”
Like any honest rock band, Something Sneaky stitches its influences deep into the music and makes no attempt to hide the seams. Even when the source is obvious (“Candy Man” does take a pretty undeniable cue from Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So”), Iacovino, his brother and drummer Jeremy, and bassist Chris Casserly have no trouble making it their own. In fact, for the most part, the band’s influences -- Iacovino cited Built to Spill, Pavement, and Heatmiser, specifically -- are easier to detect in the inner workings of the songwriting than in the specific melodies or chord progressions. At its most lyrically direct, No Opinion Needed echoes Elliot Smith (“Green Notes”); at its most capricious, both musically and lyrically, it sounds Pavement-esque (“Piano Song”).
Like all the aforementioned bands, to some degree or another, Something Sneaky balances conflicting elements to force a strange but resonant kind of harmony. In the title track, Iacovino sings “I’ve never said anything that will change a mind/Words are meaningless, and I’m lucky if I can rhyme,” a profound proclamation of self-awareness disguised as self-deprecation. “Black Eyes” is simultaneously boisterous and discreet. Perhaps the band’s most sonically impressive accomplishment, the song is vaguely yet convincingly reminiscent of Sparklehorse’s “Piano Fire,” a blueprint that allows them to experiment with clipping tones and tastefully hyperactive drums with a mind to maintain cohesiveness.
Even more impressive than Something Sneaky’s catalogue of influences is the band’s ability to present each one as truthfully as possible without losing sight of an overarching, undying end: to present themselves truthfully. Despite their age, Something Sneaky is a snapshot of a ephemeral time and place where young bands unknowingly lifted elements of punk to accentuate more pensive sentiments, dodged a certain “e” word that almost invariably got thrown around (sometimes earnestly, more often disdainfully), and played their hearts out as honestly as possible. They even have a web site, a ghost of the brief pre-Myspace era of the early 2000s, hosted on the same server as Iacovino’s independent lawn care business.
Although Something Sneaky very successfully bridged a spacious gap between adolescence and a wiser adulthood, they never dropped the universal, characteristically adolescent dream. “We want what every band wants,” says Iacovino, “to get big.” Unfortunately, just as quickly as Something Sneaky built that bridge, the tectonic plates of culture shook it down. Many of us ex-suburban kids have, for better or (usually) for worse, grown wary of this kind of understated sincerity, and most of our parents have decided we’re way too old to be hurling guitar feedback against the basement ceiling anymore.
In an ideal world where shameless honesty and intelligent, well-read songwriting results in a band "getting big," Something Sneaky would be on a fast track. That world exists in the clear heads of at least a select few, and Something Sneaky is bound to creep in as they creep around Boston, a day late or just in the nick of time, depending on who you ask.
Something Sneaky will play the Precinct in Somerville on Sept. 20 and All Asia in Cambridge on Oct. 8. No Opinion Needed is available digitally through iTunes, Amazon, and Rhapsody. The band will self-release physical copies in early October.
Photo by Something Sneaky
By Mike Flanagan -- I am a journalism student at Emerson College getting ready to graduate in December. I've done investigative work for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and covered beats in Bridgewater and Dorchester, but my passion is music. When I'm not blurring the line between obsession and enjoyment while listening to Pavement or Bruce Springsteen, I'm punching walls over the Celtics. Twitter: @mikeflanagan2.
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