Still Flyin'

On a Bedroom Wall

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From their start as a kind of joke reggae-meets-the-Grateful Dead mega-band (up to 16 members at one point with more joining them on-stage at times), it would have been easy to write Still Flyin' off as a kind of misguided attempt at filling a niche no one would ever want filled. Oddly though, even their first records were good in a kind of weird way thanks to the cheerful spirit and leader Sean Rawls' way with a catchy tune. Once the group began to shed members and change direction, things got more interesting. They left behind the good-time grooves of their early records, and on their 2010 EP, Party in Motion, added uptempo dance beats, more classically concise song structures, Motorik rhythms, and some welcome melancholy. By the time of 2012's On a Bedroom Wall, there were no traces of the group's early days left and instead they sound like the house band at John Hughes' night at the local all-ages club. The songs wrap their warm heat in icy synths, the bass guitar thunders like Peter Hook's did, the songs are twitchily danceable, two people are credited with playing rototoms, and the production walks the fine line between slickly chilly and openly warm. Rawls and the cast of singers match the setting with vocals that sound innocent and earnest but with a slight sense of detachment that only true melancholy can provide. There are no jokes left to be told, no light-hearted silliness; On a Bedroom Wall is a serious album about heartbreak and sadness that's only occasionally bright. That being said, it's still a fun album to listen to, since Rawls has a way with a catchy melody and there are plenty of hooks. And while most of the songs hang in that moody area between ballad and dancefloor filler, some of them have some bounce. "Spirits" has a punchy beat and singalong chorus perfect for singing as you dance, "Cleat Talking" has a stutter-step groove that probably comes from Rawls checking out some Afro-pop (and Matthew Wilder), "Travelin' Man" has a driving beat that is a nice expansion of their Neu! fixation. Mostly though, Rawls and his large group of musicians stick to the middle ground where beats are a little sad and the choruses swell majestically, then fade out in a jangle of single-note guitar lines, keyboard swoops, and teardrops. On a Bedroom Wall is an impressive record from a "joke" band, full of emotion and hooks, which should get them taken seriously by lovers of '80s-influenced sounds done in a thoroughly modern manner.

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