There’s something to be said about a band that once played gruff-sounding punk in the vein of Hot Water Music or Latterman but now warmly embraces the eccentricities of 90’s alternative and pop music. Naturally one would assume that the “something to be said” would be a negative thing, and why not? “A punk band stops playing punk and plays pop music? What sellouts they must be!”
This is not the case with The Sidekicks, however. Perhaps it is the 90’s-nostalgia that the entire Internet appears to be suffering from. But more likely its that The Sidekicks are just a really great band, and with “Awkward Breeds” they’ve managed to create what might be their greatest album to date.
2009’s “Weight of Air” was already a huge step into a new direction from the band’s orgcore-soaked debut “So Long, Soggy Dog.” Rather than try to best themselves at the country-flavor that filled many tunes from their sophomore effort, The Sidekicks have once again reinvented themselves on “Awkward Breeds,” this time as a power pop band taking cues from The Pixies, Weezer, and even a little bit from the Gin Blossoms. This new style works immediately. Whereas “Weight of Air” began with an off-key wail, “Awkward Breeds” starts with a child’s voice over noisy feedback before launching into the incredibly catchy “DMT.” It’s kind of like “Pinkerton,” in that aspect, if “Pinkerton’s” lead track, “Tired of Sex,” sounded less dirty.
The rest of the album follows the groundwork laid down by the opening track. Intricate and clean guitar work is sprinkled throughout the songs, at times with a little more twang than others. Lead singer, Steve Ciolek’s falsetto carries songs with an almost child-like innocence, while his lyrics often reflect that very same innocence, albeit through the eyes of someone who has grown up still longing for that childish-state.
The album’s biggest highlight comes more than halfway through the album, with “The Whale and Jonah”: a five and a half minute song that likens a couple’s relationship to that of the relationship between (surprise, surprise) Jonah and the whale that he takes cover inside. Although lyrically the song has clear Biblical allusions, musically this track could have been an unreleased Weezer tune that the band was given permission to make up their own lyrics for. The entire instrumental segment of the song, including the solo, sounds like it could’ve been stripped directly from the recording sessions of the Blue Album. The penultimate track, “Baby, Baby”, sounds like another early-era Weezer song, with Ciolek’s vocals even recalling River Cuomo’s “Pinkerton” whine ever-so-slightly during the verses.
Weezer comparisons aside, the band adds to their appeal by being able to seamlessly move from some of the aforementioned hard-hitting rock songs to their softer, made-for-lighters (cell phones?) tunes. The band doesn’t slow down often on “Awkward Breeds,” but when they do they nail it. “1940’s Fighter Jet” is a perfect anthem for any youth growing up in these unsure times, while “Looker” puts a spin on the acoustic love song by writing it from the perspective of a man who acknowledges our patriarchal society and feels guilty about the way that love is portrayed.
To name all of the album’s highlights would be to name almost every single track on the album and it is best left to simply acknowledge that The Sidekicks have created another fantastic album. By taking their cues from some of the most influential bands of their past and combining it with their own style, The Sidekicks have produced one of the strongest albums in the modern power pop genre. The only thing that can really be said is that if there is any justice in this world, in the late 2020s bands will look back on “Awkward Breeds” as fondly as The Sidekicks look back on “Pinkerton” and “New Miserable Experience.”