Forty, the 2008 debut from Chapel Hill trio The Pneurotics, defined the band's sound squarely: Rich McLaughlin's crisp, crackling guitar led casual-fit Southern rock, buoyed by the loose swing of bassist Mimi McLaughlin and alternating drummers. The album offered a heap of promise in Rich McLaughlin's distinctive guitar tone and gravelly vocals, and took to a glorious side road with an acoustic instrumental, "Song For Grace." Its gentle, eloquent fingerpicking drew intimacy and reserve from an otherwise straight-ahead rock LP.
On their sophomore effort, Second Skin, The Pneurotics have solidified their lineup with drummer Gabe Mixon, solidified their sound and delivered, mostly, more of the same, without the benefit of a "Song For Grace." Producer Chris Boerner of The Proclivities puts Rich McLaughlin's vocals higher in the mix, softening the sound and detracting slightly (ironic, given that Boerner is a firecracker guitarist himself) from his guitar, the band's greatest strength. But even lying lower in the mix can't stop his lines from dazzling. They sputter and sizzle like bacon in a skillet, weave like birds in flight, cutting Mimi McLaughlin's background harmonies and Rich's own warm amp fuzz.
Opener "Just" jangles like Let's Active before bursting into a chorus assisted by Dirty Little Heater Reese McHenry channeling riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna. And the Meat Puppets-y "White Man's Disease," one of the album's weakest links, still opens up for a prog-lite guitar solo that forgives Rich McLaughlin's vocal overreach elsewhere on the song.
Yet even as the album mostly gels to a casual, charming whole, it still doesn't seem as though The Pneurotics are ready for their close-up. That's mostly beside the point. The Pneurotics likely won't ever find overwhelming success battling the already established and blog-hyped rookies for coverage. They exist largely without a marketing angle other than "Grown folks make solid rock music, too." And Second Skin, while solid, isn't the type of masterpiece that blows up despite the odds. The Pneurotics remain a good local band whose shows in area clubs are worth notice and whose albums mostly capture the band's earnest, homemade charm.
The Pneurotics release Second Skin at Local 506 Friday, Sept. 18, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8, and Rat Jackson and the Travesties open.