Chicago’s The Changes seemed to disappear as soon as they arrived in the mid 2000’s but left behind one of the finest indie pop albums of the decade; calling to mind such incongruous influences as The Sea And Cake and boy-band harmonies. Unfortunately, ‘Today Is Tonight’ didn’t get the publicity it deserved and since then their Internet presence has been low. Now it’s 2013, it can be said there has been a seven year gap between albums one and two but for their hitherto cult following, there is much to be excited about here.
The first thing you notice about ‘American Master’ is that it’s far more guitar-driven than their debut, where keyboards tended to figure much more prominently. This strategy is exemplified by ‘A Mystery’ which rides in on a muscular guitar hook and rock-solid rhythms. At the forefront of the song is Darren Spitzer’s ghostly yet reassuringly comforting vocal. That haunting effect is even more prevalent on ‘Mask’, ‘I Woke Up’ and ‘In My Mind'; all three are songs which exude menace and melody in equal measure as the former displays a rare sense of anger and the latter two a breezy eeriness.
Other tracks aren’t quite as deep though. ‘No One Wants To Be Alone’ and ‘It Was Saturday’ possess the simplicity – both in terms of production and tune – of a 1960’s beat group, calling to mind the back to basics ideas of the most recent House Of Love album. They’re nice moments but maybe a bit too insubstantial to truly engage. Yet more often than not the less is more approach actually works; ‘Logan Square’ and ‘Gas Station Girl’ may initially seem like nostalgic, pretty, innocuous little tunes but the group turn in some delightful, catchy choruses; the former even providing one of their excellent harmonies which was such a strong feature on their last record.
Compared to the bounciness of The Changes’ debut, ‘American Master’ is a very mature, subdued offering. As such, you wonder why they took so long to create these deceptively light songs but the qualities of this record do take a little longer to lodge into the brain. So whilst ‘Today Is Tonight’ sounded like an album full of great singles, ‘American Master’ exhibits the hallmarks of a great album. Now they just need more people to listen to it.
Soundcloud Stream of ‘American Master’
The House Of Love, Ambulance Ltd., The Monkees