When I saw Those Mockingbirds open for River City Extension back in November, I wrote that the Montclair band “could be poised to move well beyond New Jersey at any moment.” July 1st will see the release of the band’s long-awaited, debut LP, Penny The Dreadful; and I stand by my assessment from last year. Penny The Dreadful combines elements of prog-, alt-, hard-, and classic rock into a loud, but accessible mix of, well… …rock… …that possesses a good deal more depth and intelligence than much of what comes out of your favorite commercial alterna-rock station.
The album starts with the ominous, acoustic guitar of “A Ballad From Hell.” The song builds from its stark beginning, layering on vocals by Adam Bird and Tory Anne Daines and instrumentation that give the song a bit of a southern gothic feel. Single “How To Rob A Bank” is an aggressive rocker that uses a call (Bird’s vocals) and response (those big, big guitar chords) style, paired with some anthemic backing vocals, to create an arena-sized sound that has absolutely shaken the smaller venues where I’ve had the chance to see the band.
“S.A.L.T.” ratchets down some of the noise in favor of something a little more atmospheric. It also contains the second reference on the album to mirrors (after “A Ballad From Hell”‘s “You and I are human mirrors.”) and seeing yourself as others see you. Second single “Model Myself” is a full-on ballad, enhanced with some violin work from Daines and a mournful classic rock-influenced guitar solo, about deciding to break away from someone who’s a bad influence. The record closes on a quiet note with mostly-acoustic love song “I Feel Like I Died.”
For Penny The Dreadful, Those Mockingbirds worked with engineers Howard Willing (Smashing Pumpkins) and Dean Baltulonis (The Hold Steady). The result is a rock and roll record that achieves a pretty impressive combination between leveraging the sounds that have launched several big-name bands to commercial success and not pandering, musically or lyrically, to the lowest common denominator. If my prediction for Those Mockingbirds’ success comes true, then, for a few minutes at a time, a couple of times a day, your car radio will not be a lifeless, rock and roll wasteland.
Penny The Dreadful is out July 1st.