PWR BTTM may be the first queercore band to skirt the mainstream. Pageant may decide if they can cross the horizon and join the professional ranks. They are not cut from the bluesy two-piece template of The Black Keys, The White Stripes or The Bonnevilles, PWR BTTM are closer to nineties pop rockers Wheatus. The falsetto vocals, the crashing guitars and the exuberant inventiveness are reminiscent of their fellow New Yorkers. That early to mid-nineties vibe evoked on Pageant includes Wheatus’ peers Weezer and The Frames. In fact, some of Ben Hopkins’ vocals are uncannily like those of Glen Hansard.
Often you’ll hear a local band and be so surprised by their sound you expect to hear that they are from somewhere exotic like New York. PWR BTTM are the opposite; a band from the Big Apple that sounds like they belong in Dublin’s Workman’s Club sharing a bill with Thumper and Oh Boland.
The band’s broad range of influences are apparent from the off. ‘Silly’ opens with a Rush-like pedal riff from Ben Hopkins and explodes into a heavy rock crescendo. ‘Answer My Text’ is ridiculous in the vein of The Darkness’ hard rock silliness but it tells a relatable story of uncertainty in a burgeoning relationship. It starts with a simple power chord reminiscent of Weezer’s ‘Beverly Hills’ and it shares some of that songs faux-aspirational sneer. It’s obvious when the chorus hits why it was selected as the single. The harmonies are heavenly and the hook is a pop classic.
Liv Bruce’s wry take on non-binary gender experiences in ‘New Trick’ would sit comfortable on Weezer’s blue album. Ben Hopkins lyrics from ‘Sissy’ stick in your mind:
“Why does every boy on the street have something to tell me? // Why does every boy on the street have something to say? // Why does every man in a suit have something to sell me? //And what would I give just to make them all go away?”
It’s not all perfect either. The Damien Rice-isms of recent single ‘LOL’ are best avoided, even if it picks up after the chorus. In fact, there are quite a number of duds on Pageant, not least the title track. The hit to miss ratio is about 50:50 but the songs that hit are glorious.
When there is a lot of hype around a band, it can be hard for the material to live up to expectation. I’ve been seeing PWR BTTM everywhere for months and avoided listening to them so I wouldn’t get caught up in it but here we are with their second album and it’s a wee cracker, even if it is flawed. It’s not a start-to-finish listen but the unforgettable songs and brazen charm of the duo make Pageant one of the better albums of the year so far. You can expect to see it on many end-of-year-lists. It’s not spectacular or overblown, it is just catchy, punchy, heavy and pleasingly histrionic.