Three years to the month after their debut, And I Thank You, the Elwins released 2015's Play for Keeps, bringing with it big choruses, more polished production, a new bass player in Frankie Figliomeni, and a new label in Canada's Hidden Pony Records. Crystal-clear vocals, sharp guitar rhythms, unabashedly early-'80s Casio keyboard sounds, and bouncy melodies set the tone for the 12-track indie pop sparkler. "Bubbly" descriptions are inevitable for a record with a catchy opening track titled "Bubble," which also offers some of the album's occasional questionably uninspired lyrics, even granting it's in fun: "You get me high like a bubble/I know I'm asking for trouble/When I'm high like a bubble." The song borders on arena-ready singalong, as does "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" ("'Til you know that you wake up the sun/More than anyone/Yeah, you wake up the sun"). Singer Matthew Sweeney's voice is more Nate Ruess than, say, John Lennon, which suits the sunny disposition and far-reaching melodies of the majority of the tracks. "So Down Low," "Away Too Long," and "Off the Wall" offer relatively grittier tones and more intricate melodies and lyrics; there is songwriting craft on board for those who look beyond a few chanty choruses, as well as a flexible rhythm section that can groove ("It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over"), rock ("So Down Low"), or lay back ("Backing Up") as called for. The aggregate is an amped-up mix of parts the Knack, Weezer, and Hellogoodbye. Play for Keeps probably isn't for cynics except maybe as a guilty pleasure -- "You could be like a shining star/A golden light that's seen afar/So just keep burning and don't be shy/Don't let the smoke get in your eyes" -- but others may embrace its relentless infectiousness.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson