(Hidden Shoal Records, CD)
Burlington's indie-rock big band The Hero Cycle recently signed a global digital distribution deal with Australian label Hidden Shoal. The arrangement will bring their latest EP, Lakes and Ponds, to a handful of prominent online retailers, including iTunes and e-music. It's a savvy move by a savvy band, and one that might help them succeed beyond Vermont.
Musically, THC owe a lot to Canadian collective Broken Social Scene, a surpassingly popular act with a sprawling membership. The similarities between the two groups are numerous, from the crisp cymbal work to the lofty guitars. Then there's the songwriting itself, which is pop-oriented but sonically intrepid.
THC employ prominent keyboard, which meshes with the delay-flecked axes in a supersized swirl of sound. Leader Frank Smecker's handsome croon is nicely complimented by co-vocalist Hannah Wall's demure melodies.
The rhythm section is solid; they'd pretty much have to be, considering the racket the front line makes. Drummer John Gorman lays heavily into the backbeat, launching the occasional rapid-fire fill. Bassist Shawn Flanagan, who is no longer with the group, provides sure-footed low end that colors the corners, yet never distracts.
Opener "Breathing In" sets the tone for the rest of the record, with pinprick guitars and gauzy vocals that share an attractively muted quality. It's a close cousin to shoegaze, the dreamily melodic genre that captivated indie fans in the '90s. The main difference is velocity: THC skip along with a punky energy that's missing in the haze-happy acts of yore.
"Lovers Crime" brings the keyboards to the forefront without sacrificing the six-string thrust. Wall's voice floats airily above the instrumentation in a lovely, if disaffected, way before Smecker takes over for the bridge. It's a smart ditty, but cops too much from Broken Social Scene to be called original.
More novel is "American Proxy," a gallantly risqué number that would be perfect for an open-ended road trip with a willing flame. It's followed by the instrumental "A New Love for Lakes and Ponds," which builds to a stormy crescendo from fragments of blissed-out guitar and keyboard.
My favorite cut on the disc is the closing number, "You vs. Them." While still somewhat derivative, it's got a romantic quality that sounds gloriously bona fide. There's also a really cool lead guitar part that shows the band is capable of more than just shuddering strums and cascading octaves.
I'm looking forward to the day when The Hero Cycle shed their influences to become the great band they seem destined to be. Catch them at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge on Wednesday, February 21 with two other excellent acts, Relay and Lymbic System.