Washington Social Club, Catching Looks

Catching_Looks-Washington_Social_Scene_480Washington Social Club
Catching Looks
(Badman Recording Co.)

Immediate attempts to place Washington Social Club’s sound in any familiar company lead back to the late 70s and early 80s when art students started playing punk rock without the overdriven guitars. The frantically-strummed six-stringers on WSC’s debut album, Catching Looks, send you directly to the English Beat, Talking Heads, Blondie, and the Replacements.

It isn’t just the guitars – WSC’s insistence on making rock ‘n’ roll dance music is another recent anachronism. Dancing Song pulsates with muted guitars. Modern Trance begins with a bassline worthy of The Specials first album.

The dance beats persist through the first seven tracks. River and the Road with its acoustic guitar may hint at respite, but, despite its relaxed pace, it’s still pretty breathless. Much of the record’s energy comes from lead singer Martin Royle whose delivery – part Perry Farrel, part Richard Butler, part Rodney Anonymous – turns his charming pop melodies into tiny dance-floor anthems. Olivia Mancini’s background vocals take the edge off the choruses and lend an egalitarian “this party is for everyone” vibe.

The record displays a great balance between the energy of the performances and the restraint required not to over-produce their sound. The result is a crisp, bright record that emphasizes the band’s hooks and rhythms. Cool as it may be, you never get the impression that WSC think they’re cool. This party is for everyone.

[This review originally appeared in All The Rage.]