The Pneurotics, a Chapel Hill trio with Durham ties, plays primarily on jagged riffs and rough-hewn vocals. But on debut LP Forty, the band creates an unlikely sort of harmony, the sort that comes from self-assuredness and a solid foundation of fundamentals. Forty radiates a calm confidence, the wisdom of a veteran matched by the genuinely youthful joy of discovery. Rich McLaughlin has been writing songs since he was a teenager, but Mimi McLaughlin provides bass and backing vocals; she joined the band after the first bass player left for Russia. Rich's voice carries the worn-in reliability of a baseball glove trusty from long use, and when Mimi's bass walks off on its own near the end, it sounds young, adventurous, fun. When the guitar rejoins the bassline for a coda, the metaphor comes full circle.
Indeed, for the married couple-turned-rock band, the dust of growing up has settled. But this new maturity means new chances. There's nothing revolutionary about the sound, no epic excursions into uncharted waters, but the comforting solidity of it all is refreshing. The Pneurotics self-describe as "fun indie rock with a hint of twang." Those terms suit them best on "S. Rose," a shuffling country-rock story of a girl-done-wrong. Rich's sandy vocals come softened by Mimi's backing harmonies. The "fun indie rock" is in the biting guitar tones slipping through distortion, the "hint of twang" in the vocals and the crossroads of the characters. It's often playful and smart, too, like on "The Pedestrian," where Rich slings crispy, distorted lines at guest trumpeter Nate Osborne's brassy tones. The instruments dance around each other like a mongoose and a cobra, each looking to deliver the fatal blow.
Forty concludes with the gorgeous finger-picked solo "Song for Grace." The soft side doesn't sound forced or misfit, but rather like a sigh, equal parts relief of finishing something and pride in its creation. It's a fitting end for a debut that's a balanced mix of character and promise.
The Pneurotics play a CD release show at Local 506 with The Proclivities, Hammer and Red Collar Saturday, May 17, at 9 p.m.. The $7 cover includes a free copy of Forty.