, the sophomore album released last week
by the Carrboro garage-rock outfit Last Year’s Men, is good, very good. But I won’t say that it was worth the four-year wait since Sunny Down Snuff
, the group’s locally lauded 2010 debut. Recorded with Oblivian and Reigning Sound leader Greg Cartwright back in January 2013, these cuts ride effervescent melodies with finely sharpened guitars and raucous vocals. As closely as Sunny
got to the bedrock essence of rock ‘n’ roll’s primal appeal, Underwhelmed
inches even closer, further mastering tricks that never go out of style.
But the four-year gestation will almost certainly hurt this record’s reach. Four years ago, Last Year’s Men were a rag-tag group of shockingly proficient rockers.
Some of them couldn’t even (legally) drink. They were the hottest new band in the Triangle, ascending thereafter through well positioned dates opening for the popular Black Lips and locking down Cartwright to record their follow-up. But Last Year’s Men’s momentum has waned. They don’t tour much, and Underwhelmed
—a record that could hold its own against breathlessly praised releases by the likes of Ty Segall or Twin Peaks—arrived only as a self-released Bandcamp download.
Then again, confronted with a record this charming and catchy, Last Year’s Men’s future doesn’t exactly look bleak. Grabbing the bruised swagger of their revered producer, these new songs run ragged, where Cartwright has recently turned more polite. Listening to “By the Way,” it’s hard not think of Oblivians in their “Bad Man” prime. It’s the sound of a young and vital rock band grabbing just the right measure of maturity to balance their youthful intensity.
It’s a big step forward for Last Year’s Men—let’s hope it isn’t their last.