Proud Simon | Anchors Aweigh (s/r)

But with each subsequent spin, despite my best efforts to stop it doing so, the disc got under my skin a little bit more.

 Here’s a band that doesn’t play games. The album-opening title track introduces and absolutely owns a particular ’90s rock vibe, as if you took the best of Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket, diluted it slightly, and then added a dose of those late-’90s MOR juggernauts Matchbox Twenty. Plus, the song somehow manages to sound like the smell of the ocean, or at the very least convey the same enveloping refreshment. Singer and co-songwriter Brian Keenan has this inescapable Rob Thomas made palatable thing going on, lending a comfortable, sympathetic tone to every word he sings without being obnoxious. Anchors Aweigh isn’t edgy in the slightest, and is almost devoted to being samey, both qualities that initially turned me off. But with each subsequent spin, despite my best efforts to stop it doing so, the disc got under my skin a little bit more; I suppose it doesn’t need to be experimental when it’s this broadly pleasant, well-written, and confidently performed.

It’s not to say that the disc is purely one-note: “Rock Unturned” cozies up to harmony-laden jangle pop, and there’s a particularly effective touch of steel guitar twang on “I Keep the Paintings Covered.” The stompy, bluesy guitar licks, Hammond organ and spacey Wurlitzer all over “Time Capsule” brings to mind a faster-paced take on the meat-and-potatoes Brit rock sound of Ocean Colour Scene. The clarinet that snakes its way through “Morning Paper” makes the underlying radio-ready jam all the degrees more lovable and affecting.

You know, I’ll bet Proud Simon are a killer bar band; I say that not to condescend, but because this is that kind of pop/rock, the stuff that defies expectation to absolutely make your week, that goes perfectly with a pint on a loose Thursday night when you most need a lift. You know how every college music scene has one act that’s clearly a notch above the rest, in terms of songwriting quality, chops and performance acumen? You can picture Proud Simon in that role: gigging the week away, slowly building a devoted following, bringing down a small house after small house, and absolutely ruling a university town. Limiting Anchors Aweigh to EP length feeds that vibe and was a shrewd move; the quick hit is ideally suited to Proud Simon’s developmental phase. Too much more of what it offers would be tedious, but these five beguiling songs whet the appetite for a full-length that hopefully more fully develops and broadens their sound, yet manages to retain their innate, unpretentious charm. B- | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Everclear (the band, not the booze, although maybe that too); forgiving the musical sins of Rob Thomas; the sort of stuff they used to play on 101.1 FM The River

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