Among the characters who make up Brooklyn based Pela are a bartender, a classically trained musician and a drummer who has a history in playing Croatian weddings. A diverse bunch of cats, to be sure, but fairly representative of the patchwork Americana sound the group creates, elegant but rugged, and just this side of conventional. In fact, the most oft thrown around term in reference to the band is “American,” and there’s a lot of truth in that. Debut full-length Anytown Graffiti has a rugged individualism and an earnestness that could only come from the US of A. And most American of all, the group has clearly listened to their share of Springsteen albums.
On blogs, in magazines and even on the press sheet, Pela has also been compared to The Hold Steady, a comparison that makes absolutely no sense to me. Though they both have a red-blooded sound that’s all heart, Pela’s rock is less soaked in lager and messianic Minneapolitans, opting more for a delicate balance of pretty, Tindersticks-like balladry and streamlined, soaring rock. To these ears, Anytown Graffiti is what The Killers’ Sam’s Town should have sounded like, though we all know couldn’t have. It’s a dirty, passionate and heart-wrenching album, without that other band’s Vegas gloss. Moreover, the album is awfully good.
Pela’s closest musical cousin is The National (whose Brassland Records released Pela’s All in Time EP), sharing a similar affinity for cleanly plucked guitar sweeps, but pushing further into fist-pumping, impassioned anthems than their romantic, Brooklyn contemporaries. “Waiting on the Stairs” carries a swift shuffle, building up in tension and in power, as singer Billy McCarthy wails, “hey, get next to me/ `cause I am becoming your enemy.” The upbeat single “Lost to the Lonesome,” which was recently featured in an episode of Veronica Mars (bonus points for that, by the way), gives hope to the downtrodden with its call to action: “don’t just stand there, with your face in your hands.” For the real radio friendly action, “Drop Me Off” is another heroic track, a perfect choice for a single, for my money.
The band does slow as nicely as it does fast, the U2-like “The Trouble With River Cities” a perfect example of their gorgeously tender side. Likewise, “Your Desert’s Not a Desert At All” is an epic that quietly builds from a dirge-like beginning. Oddly enough, this track in particular finds McCarthy sounding his most like The Killers’ Brandon Flowers during the chorus. I say `oddly enough’ precisely because it sounds very little like the Nevada nü-wavers otherwise.
For a debut album, Anytown Graffiti is sequenced wonderfully, and it goes without saying that the songs are quite powerful, themselves. In fact, it sounds a lot like what I remember an album was meant to sound like long before groups like Tortoise and Animal Collective corrupted me. It all makes sense now—this is American music.
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.