[HERE'S YOUR FUTURE] It's hard to fault Blues Skies for Black Hearts for being out of touch. The power-poppy quartet—led by bespectacled frontman Pat Kearns—sticks to a (relatively) simple template, twisting the classic, catchy jangle of groups like Teenage Fanclub with local references and a sparkling commitment to keeping things vintage. Unlike so many retro-leaning acts that put too much focus on the aesthetics of looking the part instead of actually, like, writing a decent hook, BSFBH pens shoulda-been-hits like 2007's "Siouxsie Please Come Home," a slice of AM-radio heaven rarely heard these days outside the New Pornographers oeuvre. But on its new long-player, Embracing the Modern Age, the band takes baby steps toward updating its sound with a concept record supposedly about the anxieties caused by modern technology.
Fortunately, this shaky premise is something of a ruse: Embracing the Modern Age, despite its OK Computer-like title, isn't really about computers and iPhones. It's about girls. And that's a good thing: Most of the album is full of breezy, hummable and memorable power-pop songs that sound like British revival covers. There's nothing heavy or deep here, just well-worn sentiments and lines like "look in my direction/ I want to know your name," as Kearns sings on the bouncy "Majoring in the Arts." It's more Pro Songs than Pro Tools, more about automobiles than Auto-Tune. And the whole thing, despite being self-recorded, just sounds tremendous: Kearns has a side gig as a producer (the Exploding Hearts, Clorox Girls, the Dandy Warhols) and his good taste frames the record in clean, unfussy textures instead of baths of reverb.
There are a few missteps here: The doo-wop heavy "Caroline Make Up Your Mind" aims for the (prom) dance floor but ends up as a bad pastiche, and songs like "Deck of Cards"—which runs over five minutes but should be closer to three—get lost in the shuffle. Yet for all its Big Ideas and wacky concepts (including the companion sci-fi film, written by bassist Kelly Simmons and directed by friend Jon Griffith that's described as "sort of in the vein of Help!, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and Purple Rain all packed into a Monkees episode"), Embracing the Modern Age works best as a solid, old-fashioned rock record.
SEE IT: Blue Skies for Black Hearts plays Saturday, April 23, at the Mission Theater, with the Satin Chaps, Midnight Callers and the debut screening of Embracing the Modern Age. 9 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.