WITH BIG POWER-POP hooks and a relentlessly upbeat outlook, Philadelphia’s Free Energy is not your typical indie-rock band. In fact, the group’s unwavering optimism almost seems at odds with a genre often defined by its detached cool.
Discovered by James Murphy, the creative force behind the acclaimed electro-rock group LCD Soundsystem, Free Energy started showing up regularly on blogs last year when the band released its joyful first single, “Dream City“. Drawing heavily on ’70s glam-rock boogie and the classic American pop of bands like Cheap Trick, the song was about as perfect a summer jam as one could hope for.
Capturing the spirit and innocence of a teenage night on the town, that same youthful energy carries through the band’s full-length debut “Stuck on Nothing.”
Produced by Murphy, the album is also notable for crisp sonics and attention to detail. Free Energy obviously has a knack for melody, and Murphy highlights that in the songs’ arrangements. On opener “Free Energy” and album highlight “Bang Pop,” he sets big, whining guitar lines next to heavy drum claps, leaving enough space in between notes so that the tracks’ sticky choruses ring through clearly.
In terms of its lyrical content, the record is unapologetically hopeful, to the point that it could become cloying to those that tend towards cynicism. On the ballad “Light Love,” frontman Paul Sprangers sings, “Hey, happy times, keep the light on!” And with the wistful closer “Hope Child” offers something of a mantra: “I want you to remember, child, we broadcast hope. When there’s nothing left and nowhere feels like home, you’re not alone.” One almost wants to wince at lyrics like these, but the more you listen to album, the more it becomes clear that these guys are dead serious about such claims, and in a way that makes them more charming.
“Stuck on Nothing” is stronger in its first half and begins to sag a bit during the middle section, though. At five-plus minutes, “Bad Stuff” and “Dark Trance” both linger for too long. With this brand of punchy power pop especially, brevity is key, and these tracks don’t have the same earworm qualities that some of the others do.
Still, it’s mostly a very good album, and one that rewards buying into the band’s cheerful ideology. After all, we all need a little uplift now and again, don’t we?
Written by Express contributor Joe Colly
Photo by Cass Bird