Promising debut suggests future looks good for Austin based quartet.
Back when the world seemed a simpler place, a debut album was seen as the first opportunity for a new artist or band to start finding their feet in the recording studio, developing their own sound, own voice, own identity. Mistakes were accepted as part of the learning curve to be ironed out on following albums as the fan base grew. These days things are very different, with pressure on the first album to show the artist as the finished article, almost demanding immediate success. Make or break! ‘Bummer Year’, is the debut album from Austin based quartet Good Looks, led by Tyler Jordan on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, with Jake Ames on lead guitar, Robert Cherry on bass guitar and Phillip Dunne on drums. Frontman Jordan originally hails from the very south of Texas, where the coastal towns, dominated by the petrochemical industry, grapple with the impact on the local environment and nature. The exposure of these early years surface in Jordans writing, showing an awareness of the world around him, while still keeping the subject matter close to home and personal.
The album opens with the anthemic ‘Almost Automatic’, a break up song of which Jordan starts off by singing “Headed out to some west Texas town”, to realise later in the song, “coming out here was a bad idea”, all wonderfully held together by a driving rhythm section that culminates in a delightful sing-along chorus, “why am I waiting on you”, and a fiery guitar solo from Ames. As album openers go, this pretty much has it all.
The band slightly eases off the throttle on the following number, “21”, but it is here that Jordan’s early life influences start to show, as the song addresses the structures of capitalism and it’s impending downfall, as well as his own role as a cog in the machine when he sings “my body could be put to better use” rather than to fuel “someone else’s dream”. It his here you get a sense of a Billy Bragg influence, not just in the message, but in the delivery as well. Jordan returns to a similar theme on “First Crossing”, where he recalls Woody Guthrie’s message from “This Land is Your Land”, and how the “water belongs to all”.
The title track continues at a similar pace, but here the subject matter deals with the divisions that the Trump years have brought across the country and tries to find a way to heal the wounds by highlighting the things we have in common rather than the differences. How our friends and colleagues are not necessarily the ones we would have chosen but are often the ones we need. “Vision Boards”, has a greater energy, in someways similar to The Drive By Truckers, as Jordan’s vocals take on a more punk like attitude, he takes a personal stand over perceived successes and failures, while the final track “Walker Lake” has a broader soundscape almost reminiscent of latter day Fleet Foxes and shows off another side to his fine vocal range.
What is disappointing is the lack of songs, only seven, and though each track comes in at well over four minutes, bringing the total playing time to just over half an hour, you’d be forgiven for expecting a little more. Another couple of tracks in the same vein would certainly have earned the album an extra mark. That said, there is much to like about this Dan Duszynski produced, guitar driven album. The tracks in the main show a lot of promise and potential, and I look forward to seeing how the band progresses, and hopefully a visit to the UK will be on their agenda.
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