Schooner launches straight out of the gate for the opening track of its first album, a reverbed guitar chugging along at a steady clip as Tripp Cox's bass drifts in with a lingering two-note walk. The parts persist and turn for half a minute, just before a second guitar careens into the mix, riding a sheet of white noise. Twenty seconds later, frontman Reid Johnson sing-screams his way into the affair, surveying the scene as he entreats in his endearing newcomer-to-rock way, "My friend's band is better than mine / But no one goes to see him play / They go to watch him half the time / And stay until it gets to late."
Speaking of endearing, the supple "oohs" supplied by Johnson's ivory-tickling sister Kathryn after every couplet are every bit as memorable as the mid-level moments of Electric Version, and Billy Alphin's dead-on drumming renders the song as the quickest and most convincing four minutes of the disc--a throbbing, smart number with more spirit and sensibility than its uncanny parallel, that being the love-or-hate Modest Mouse "Dancehall" joint.
The glitch here, though, comes with a majority of the remaining tracks and their ostensible kinship. "Long, Long Time," a billowing synthesis of starry-eyed pop and perfectly done rock onomatopoeia, works like a charm, the pings of a xylophone creeping in beneath an underplayed guitar solo and Johnson's warm "ba-ba" sing-alongs. Put the formula on barbiturates, and one has the Red House Painters-inflected "Open Door." Pump it up a bit, though, and add a marching organ to Johnson's most compelling vocals on the album, and one has already recorded the album's third (but great) track, "Trains and Parades." In short, Johnson writes a few songs extremely well, but he has yet to marry the quality of those few formats to the quantity of frameworks in which he is comfortable. When he does, look out.
In fact, the diversions still make this EP worth its length including the highly danceable "We Let the Cat Out." Its out-of-nowhere harmonica is as brilliant as the rest of the work and ideas of producer Zeno Gill here. Schooner blisters through "Stunts and Showmanship and Codes," a drunken rail of distorted, buried vocals and pounded piano in which Johnson finds his title and sings it like he means it. He and Schooner may have managed the most promising debut of any band inside the beltline this year.
Schooner plays at Go! Studios on Saturday, July 3 with The Honored Guests (ex-Milo)