As far as I can remember, the last reminder being a lengthy eight years ago, Golden Smog were an alt-country group, a “super” one, at that. So hearing Another Fine Day, the band’s third album and first since 1998’s Weird Tales, revealed a small, albeit pleasant surprise, that being a sharp reduction in twang and a strong push toward good ol’ American power pop. This, of course, only makes sense, taking into consideration that the Jayhawks broke up, Soul Asylum never really was country, and Wilco, well, they’ve gone in their own prog-like direction. And this isn’t to say there aren’t a few slide guitars or acoustic strummers here and there, but Golden Smog is starting to sound more like indie rock’s other notable pop supergroups, The Raconteurs and The New Pornographers.
I probably don’t need to explain these comparisons, but I don’t want to give the impression that these bands all sound the same. Rather, they each share the ability to collect a pool of songwriting and instrumental talent into one small, compressed whole and create something cohesive and artful from it. In the way that The Raconteurs never delve into Jack White’s penchant for Zeppelin-isms or that Neko Case keeps a safe distance from torch ballads while in The New Pornographers, Golden Smog’s members all seem to be on the same page, musically, finding the common ground of a really solid rock record.
As the band has long had a revolving door of a lineup, the current state of Golden Smog finds Jayhawks members Marc Perlman, Kraig Jarrett Johnson and Gary Louris tackling the bulk of the songwriting, while Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy’s songwriting credits are attached to three tracks, and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on two. Being that Tweedy has diverted so far from a straightforward rock path, it’s interesting to see that the songs that bear his credit, “Long Time Ago” and “Listen Joe,” are both pretty and simple acoustic duets with Louris. Murphy’s numbers, like the distorted chug of “Hurricane,” are both fine rock songs in their own right, as well. But as evident in the piano-driven title track, the revved up “You Make It Easy,” “Frying Pan Eyes” and the outstanding “5-22-02,” those Jayhawk boys are most certainly the stars of Another Fine Day, which only makes sense, as there’s more of them than any other band’s representatives.
Admittedly, Another Fine Day isn’t so much an adventurous album as much as a strongly crafted, yet straightforward one. But as someone who loves a great rock song, I find no fault in that. Some reviews have already suggested that this album may be catered more toward a “mature” rock audience, which I guess is their way of saying I’m old for liking it. Damn, then I guess that is a gray hair sprouting up there.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.