The first album in my “Reviews that I should have gotten to a while ago” series is…The Hat Madder’s “Rogue Notes and Phones”.

The Hat Madder (featured on the record) is Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur (vocals, guitars, bass, keys, percussion and found sound), Ricky Leinhart (drums and percussion), Erik Baio (Bass), Mjark Jagmin (Drums, Percussion), Doobie (keys, synths, manipulations, piano, organ, theremin), Aaron Pangborn (bass) and D.B. Higgins (bass).

However, the current lineup (as of 2010) is Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur (vocals, guitars, keyboards, found sound), Christian Urrabazo (drums, percussion, vocals) and Nick Merz (bass, vocals, euphonium, bowed upright bass).

Initially recorded in 2004 (hence the long credits above), Rogue Notes and Phones is a great blend of poppy vocals, bits of noise and drone and epic rock-out songs, usually all three occurring in the course of the same song. The quick opener, “This Shady Little Neighborhood”, draws on Sonic Youth-esque guitar tones. They are fuzzy and crunchy. Even the clean guitar tones have a dissonance maybe heard on Sonic Youth classics like “Theresa’s Sound World” from SY’s 1992 album Dirty.

The first proper song, “The Streets Don’t Lie”, starts with a great rocking riff and lyrics like “You’re the main attraction/In the main event”. The drums and guitars are tight and, as the song progresses, it only gets more and more epic. The chorus is catchy, driving and the hook is phenomenal. The silence break toward the middle, however, is a little jaunting (I sometimes think the song is over) but then the song kicks into Sonic Youth-dissonance mode with the guitar solo. Bits of shrieking distortion leak through the choppy notes.

“Let the Good Times Last” is more of a standard pop-rock song. The guitars are restrained, the vocals are super catchy and Vander Schuur has a great, multi-range vocal palette. The backing vocal harmonies are a nice touch as well. “Everything I should have done is didn’t do for you” Vander Schuur belts out. This song, along with the previous, show the noisy and poppy sides of bands that are on the Good Time Gang Recordings roster. Hooks are key but sweltering noise also plays a key role.

Another short instrumental, “Ampersand”, is an electronic piece. I love the melodic synth line in this little piece. I wish they would have expanded on that piece and turned it into a full song. “Let You Down” showcases more of the hooks and poppiness of The Hat Madder. The drums, at points, have a surf rock swagger to them. I love the use of synth here. It adds to the texture of the song. More than half-way through the album, the pieces that make up The Hat Madder are firmly established. The hooks are epic and catchy, the guitars crunchy and sparsely dissonant and the synths add a layer of spaciousness. Oh and the drums are top notch as well. I, however, have to saythat (although these are all great things) the formula is a little repetitive. Granted, I love the formula the band employs. I just thought that after the electronic “Ampersand”, the album might take a more overt electronic turn.

Regardless of my reservations about the lack of a trip down electronica lane (or maybe synth-lead avenue), this album is a great slab of rock and roll with all the dissonant bits any fan of Sonic Youth (or generally late 80s alternative) would eat up. If you’re not into that kind of thing, then the so-poppy-it-hurts hooks are great and get caught in your head and if that’s not your bag then the few electronic pieces might be able to hold your attention. No matter your taste, this album holds many styles together with ease.

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