From Left, Head of Femur's Mike Elsener, Matt Focht, and Colby Starck.
At first listen, it's hard to tell if Great Plains, the third album from Chicago-based band Head of Femur, is wildly ambitious in its eccentric, incredibly catchy sound, or is simply a good, old-fashioned pop and rock record. The songs sound new and energetic while taking enough cues from the past to sound like a tribute album. The result is a record that is recognizable, but fresh and surprisingly accessible, despite offering plenty of surprises.
The record opens with "Whirlaway," featuring off-kilter vocals reminiscent of the Flaming Lips. But it's the sweet trumpet solo that will have you smiling. This leads right into the album's title track, which picks up the pace quickly with some jazzy piano chords, energetic drums, and a chorus infused with bright horns and classic rock-style cowbell. "Jetway Junior" echoes the Beach Boys, pairing beautiful '60s sunshine vocal harmonies with guitar heavy power pop for a fun, summertime, windows-down driving song.
One of the best examples of the album's catchy yet eccentric pop-rock style is "Climbing Up Fire Escapes." The song's spacey, ambient breakdown between sing-along, quick-strummed acoustic guitar verses somehow fits perfectly, and the cheery chorus of "I felt so good today" keeps you smiling despite awkwardly happy lyrics about dark skies and swaying tenements.
The group's obsession with classic rock is obvious, though never tired. "We were really trying to recreate the grandiose aspect of the '60s and '70s," explains guitarist and vocalist Mike Elsener. "Somehow that got lost in the '90s." Great Plains seems to do just that, taking the best aspects of those decades and melding them all together, from the pop horn sections to the psychedelic freak-outs.
The band's tributes don't stop at the music. The group titled its first record Ringodom and Proctor as a reference to Ringo Starr and Goody Proctor. (The fact that the group's sophomore album, Hysterical Stars, effectively completed the Beatles' drummer's name was accidental.) The appearance of "Ringodom and Proctor" as a track on Hysterical Stars was actually an homage to Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin did something similar when it included "Houses of the Holy" as a track name on Physical Graffiti, the record following Houses of the Holy.
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