I am a sucker for pristine harmonies and catchy melodies. Even a passing familiarity with this site’s content should make that fairly plain. Since I still find a lot of mainstream pop music’s songwriting to be insipid and its production values to be hollow, I have to scratch this itch with power pop groups. These are artists who center their music around shiny major chords and foot-tapping backbeats, but rough the edges lyrically, structurally or in terms of their arrangements. The quintessential power pop group is Big Star (whose songs you have definitely heard, even if their name is unfamiliar), but artists like Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Fountains of Wayne, the Buzzcocks and Badfinger have all wriggled into my heart at various times on the backs of an undeniable melody.
Gorgeous Hands don’t resemble these modern-day power pop paragons, as much as they do the progenitors of the genre. On their debut album, Tender, Gorgeous Hands recall the Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, Zombies and Kinks with their sleek harmonies and effortless songwriting, and these were the groups that laid the foundation for any rock-oriented melody fetishists to come in the decades ahead. Rusty Galis, Chris Galis, Charlie Magnone, and Cullen Faulk were clearly some of those kids who have now grown up to make impeccably wonderful pop gems of their own.
There’s a stretch at the start of the second half of Tender that exemplifies the coexistence of 60s and contemporary influences that Gorgeous Hands embody. “Sunset Forever” rises out of about a minute of electronic ambient haze. It creeps up on the listener slowly with its minor chords, hopping bass line and stuttering drum groove, before exploding in a wash of soothing harmonies. It’s a song that couldn’t have happened without a modern record like Kaputt from Destroyer, but filters that 21st century weariness through its 60s influences. “Sunset Forever” smoothly melts into “Sunday in the Evening Lay Down in the Water,” which – in a sort of reverse chronological movement – draws heavily from 70s groups like Big Star and Cheap Trick, before settling into “Goodbye Good Vibrations,” a not-so-subtle ode to 60s pop-rock. It’s easy to hear Beatles and Kinks in there before that ambient haze from the start of “Sunset Forever” returns and envelopes the track. Taken together, these tracks amount to a musical statement of purpose, folding decades of pop influences in on one another to produce a great and distinct sound.
Elsewhere on Tender, you can find a plethora of great songs. There are the two singles Gorgeous Hands released last year after changing their name from Magnificent Snails: “Generator” and “Swear to Me.” We already know those are great, so it’s wonderful to hear other fantastic tracks like “Domestic Abuse,” which marries Beach Boys harmonies on top of a bouncy musical bed straight from Milwaukee’s GIVERS. “Pieces (I Can’t Begin to Stop Not Lovin’ You)” borrows a lot from Spoon’s “Don’t You Evah” in terms of handclaps, shakers and ambient studio voices. It winds along subtly until, at 2:40, arrives the head-turning harmonized chorus. “Songing” would fit on 90s radio alongside Matthew Sweet with its overpowering chorus.
Oh and none of these are the wonderful lead single, “Desperate Mainstream.” There’s a lot to love on Tender. It’s ear candy that actually has some substance behind it as Gorgeous Hands filter through all of their influences to arrive at some truly arresting contemporary songs. You can catch them next at their tour kickoff on June 7th at the Swan Dive.
– Carter Delloro