Under Review/Streets Of My Town: Free Energy – Stuck On Nothing

As it turns out, DFA Records also loves decades that aren’t the 1980s.  Case in point: their newest recruits, Free Energy.  The Philadelphia quintet favors a mid-‘70s style of hooky power pop and while their debut album, Stuck On Nothing, might not carry the electronics that are so associated with DFA, the songs are as lively and engaging as any of the label’s dance floor veterans.  Listening to Stuck On Nothing is like rolling through the radio dial in your black Trans Am.  There are flashes of T. Rex’s chunky, bobbing rhythms (“All I Know”), Thin Lizzy’s twin-guitar attack (“Young Hearts”) and The Sweet’s sing-along anthems (“Free Energy”).  As if the songs themselves weren’t strong enough, the album’s production (courtesy of James “LCD Soundsystem” Murphy) strikes a dead-on retro pose, with cowbell, electric piano and handclaps peppering the disc and giving it a strong but fun-loving swagger.  The wordless chorus in “Dream City,” the Loaded-esque strut of “Light Love,” they all point to a time that has been alluded to by plenty of modern musicians, but has never been articulated this well.  Still, Free Energy aren’t totally enveloped in the ‘70s, as singer Paul Sprangers occasionally delivers lines in an unaffected mumble that sooner recalls Stephen Malkmus than Phil Lynott.  For such an immediate record, Stuck On Nothing has a peculiar midsection, with “Bad Stuff” and “Dark Trance” offering 11 minutes of slow-burning and defiantly non-punky rock.  With these two songs, Free Energy shows the darker side of ‘70s rock: not quite heavy metal, but definitely more abrasive than glam.  After all, it wasn’t all gloss and glitter in the pre-disco age.  If you think about it, Free Energy is doing a great service in bridging a musical gap between generations.  To the skeptical, Free Energy’s whole neo-‘70s thing could easily be construed as mindless irony, but the guys seem to be completely in love with the music they play.

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~ by E. on March 29, 2010.

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