“Hey you indie rockers, is everybody in?”
So begins Boys, the latest full-length from Cleveland’s Herzog, on the high-speed “Full Stick.” It’s an invitation — not snide or ironic in any way — to join these boys on a ride through what it means to be a boy, into rock and roll, growing up in the suburbs. In that way, and with its stadium-sized guitar parts and multi-tracked vocals, Boys is a bit of a throwback to the years when I was in my teens and twenties. Kevin S. McMahon, producer for Titus Andronicus, Diarrhea Planet, and others, produced here and knows his way around these sounds. Like a lot of music in this space, the focus here is, unsurprisingly, masculine; but not in a bro / frat boy kind of way. Instead, it’s more of a, “We’re a bunch of guys in a rock band, having a blast, and still working on expanding our world view.”
And if you approach Boys with that in mind, there’s plenty of insight, delivered in the form of unselfconscious, irony-free, late 80s / early 90s rock. “There are men who have been deemed successful. I just don’t know any one of them. I’ll be accepted if I look just like one,” sings Nick Tolar on single “Mad Men,” a song that opens sounding like aggressive pop punk but then transitions into the melodic, sing-songy, and clever hook, “I used to write, but money’s made in publishing. Or so I’ve been told…” The breezy “It’s Hard Getting Old” makes me smirk a little as Tolar sings of going gray and says, “Lately, all my friends stay at home; So I just go to shows alone.” Herzog are all
in their twenties younger than I am, so I’m not sure if my ability to identify with the song says more about me or the band.
“Teenage Metalhead” tells the story of one of four lead guitarists in a basement metal band. He also plays trombone in the school marching band, and the marching band takes a field trip to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Weed is purchased / smoked. Ooh’s are ooh’d. Nah’s are nah’d. There’s a “Walk on the Wild Side” interlude and a cowbell. Amid all that, though, is the realization that, at some point, everyone needs to make a choice, get serious about what they’re doing, and think about growing up.
The epic “You Are Not The Villain” is a seven-minute, drenched in guitar squall meditation on how maturity can make people take another look at teenage grudges: “We keep in touch.” “In the film of my life, you are not the villain.”
Yeah. As Tolar sings on “Theme For Boys,” Boys “is a theme for all the boys, playing guitar and making noise;” but amid all the Dinosaur Jr.-style fuzz, Thin Lizzy-esque soloing, and Weezer-y hooks, there are some universal themes here about growing up and making choices that let you break out of whatever box you may have been born into. It’s all told from the point of view of some self-proclaimed “boys,” but they always say write what you know, right? And there’s nothing boyish or childlike about taking what should be a very narrow perspective and succeeding in making it relatable to a wide audience.
Boys is out now on Exit Stencil Records.