While the Sidekicks and Tigers Jaw both occupy the poppier side of the indie/punk spectrum, they have very different approaches to their craft. The Sidekicks’ upbeat power-pop has soaring vocal melodies and catchy hooks that are so immediately satisfying they do little to betray the beautiful lyrics and sophisticated guitar work contained within that you only discover upon repeated listens. Tigers Jaw, on the other hand, have a more intentionally obscure path they take you on with their music, having a heavier debt to '90s Midwest emo and alterna-rock, and yet there is something localized rather than universal about their music. Their lyrics are more abstract, their tempos are slower, and their guitar parts shift just enough so they make you wait for that one sweet spot in a song rather than delivering right away. Putting these two bands together proves to be an interesting and overall fairly successful experiment.
I've been all Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton since the Sidekicks dropped Weight of Air in 2008, and gee wiz was the wait worth it as they deliver in every aspect on their side of this split. After a recent performance I described these guys as a “punk rock wedding band” and I meant it in the best way possible. As the full instrumentation kicks in on “Little James”, there is the kind of energy that makes you want to kick loose with reckless abandon, but actually dance, not just make awkward attempts at push-moshing. Adding to that, you can practically see your elderly aunt or uncle making their way across the dance floor to trip the light fantastic right there with you. Like the lyrics say, "Fight it / don’t fight it / stay quiet / and you’ll like it." “Little James” is a slightly down-tempo number that shows the Sidekicks aren't going to rest on their laurels, but try and expand their sound. The lyrics have a lullaby quality to them that is a logical continuation from the themes of Weight of Air, but the words and music meld in such a perfect way at about the 1:48 mark where the drums work to a buildup and the vocals dance just on the edge of the music, simulating a sort of weightless feeling in the listener. The Sidekicks’ second offering is a logical cover of Elvis Costello’s “(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”, off of his classic debut My Aim Is True. What this cover remembers that a lot of covers don’t is that vocals are as much an instrument as any other part of a band. Steve Ciolek does a great job at paying tribute to Costello’s herky-jerky, Buddy Holly-esque vocal inflections while retaining his own voice.
Tigers Jaw’s side is a little more frustrating when you think of how well the Sidekicks execute their potential on their half. “Jimmy Piersall” is probably the most confident and easily enjoyable thing they have released since Spirit Desire. The restrained, straight-ahead dual guitar attack with small bits of more ornamental playing peppered through the verses reminds me of something Silkworm might have done at their least weird, but then it all gives way to bigger vocal harmonies and guitars crashing against each other as much as they are intertwined. I have to say that Tigers Jaw’s choice of cover is kind of what brings the whole thing down from near-perfection, which seems kind of sad considering it isn't the songwriting of either of the two bands featured. The cover in question is “Boots ‘n' Hanks”, originally performed by another Scranton band, Okay Paddy. I've never heard the original, but Tigers Jaw’s version of the song is pretty meandering until it picks up halfway through the song, and by then it is almost too late to be saved. When I hear people groan at the term “indie rock”, this is the type of thing I think of. It could have been good, but it tried to be too self-conscious—so interesting that it became boring.
Pairing the two groups for this 7” highlights each band’s unique strengths but also goes on to reveal commonalities that if each hadn't been paired up might not have otherwise been recognizable—really doing justice to the split format in the process.