Easy Eye Sound
Hailing from eastern Pennsylvania and the Bucks County town, Doylestown, cited by USA Today as having one of the “best small-town cultural scenes,” we bring the fourth album from the band Ceramic Animal. The band has been able to build a devoted fan base through their three previous releases but are now poised for bigger stages now that Dan Auerbach signed on to produce their fourth effort, Sweet Unknown. Not only that, but they will be opening for the Black Keys and The Band of Horses on tour. This is heady stuff indeed. While Auerbach has lent his hand to lesser-known blues artists in recent years, this pairing is not in that vein.
The band features a trio of brothers—Chris Regan (vocals, guitar), Erik Regan (drums) and Elliott Regan (vocals, keys)—along with childhood friend Anthony Marchione (guitar) and Dallas Hosey (vocals, bass). A guitar band of the highest-order with a strong focus on songwriting, they fuse post punk, psych and 70’s pop together in a sound not too far from contemporaries like The War On Drugs, Strand of Oaks or fellow Pennsylvania artist, Kurt Vile. There’s infectious rootsy songs too like the opener, “Tangled Up.” Immediately though “I Can’t Wait” hits much harder with its loud guitars and roaring rhythm. “I Love a Stranger” goes in yet another direction, a melodic, swaying, keyboard driver Todd Rundgren-like sound with the indelible chorus “How did we get her and where do we go from here?” So, it just these first three, the band demonstrates their versatility and command of rock and pop styles. The group harmonies are present throughout with captivating hooks and bubbling enthusiasm that belies the lyrics, which primarily address loss, absence, and loneliness – a natural reaction to the pandemic induced feelings of the past couple of years.
Those themes first directly reveal themselves in “Long Day” which follows a struggling couple trying to keep it together – “Looking at the bills laying on the table/I would pay them all if I were able to.” It’s an empathetic we-can-get-through-this theme teeming with hints of Southern soul that one can’t help but think bears Auerbach’s Nashville locale influence. This reflective, nostalgic ballad approach continues into “Forever Song” where Chris sings, “Strangers dance like soul mates to an old forever song!” before it morphs into a poppy, slightly psychedelic harmonious series of choruses that one can easily see their fans singing along to in a live show.
From those hints of optimism, the sequencing takes us into a starker realm on the title track, which. Like most, it was recorded in one take. Yet, the weariness that comes through is real, as they wobbled into the studio groggy and maybe a little hung over one morning. That reflect their confidence, just being true to who they are. The easy rolling “Up in Smoke” pulls us up while “Private Dancer” emotes a rather unusual combination of sadness and post punk raucousness. “I Don’t Wanna Wait” returns to their melodic, hook infused persona – the band’s core strength. Yet, through the shifting musical soundscapes, the themes remain consistent even in the slashing closer “Valerie.”
So, there’s lots to digest in this album, which on first listen may seem a little sneaky and deceptive. The hooks and harmonies capture the listener, who when listening to the lyrics, finds a world that belies the jangling, bouncy guitars and keys. Couples are struggling, friends are leaving, and protagonists contemplate how to fill these voids in their lives. Chris, who is the principal songwriter, worked with Auerbach and Nashville writers Desmond Child, Pat McLaughlin, and Angelo Petraglia, with the resulting lyrics becoming clearer and focused than his past writing. By turns sad, warm, or hopeful these messages come across unpretentiously. Auerbach’s tweaks will likely take Ceramic Animal to the next level. This will be their breakthrough year.
- Jim Hynes (writing this less than 20 miles from Doylestown)