One of the many pitfalls that emerge when people think of indie music is thinking that it has to sound like Wavves, Sonic Youth, or Sleigh Bells: music where, even if you have a hook, the production can’t exist, the songs have to be loaded in feedback, or distorted in the harshest way possible. Heaven forbid you sound accessible.
Today’s band, The Perms, won’t hear any of that. Sofia Nights proudly embraces hooks without covering them in too-cool sludge or amateur no-fi production; it’s the kind of record that goes down smooth on the first listen, and only gets sharper after that. “High School High” is a bright slice of Weezer-like distortion matched with that band’s charm and some sweet Beach Boy harmonies. As a whole, Sofia Nights nails the sweet spot between indie rock, radio alternative rock, and power pop. It has power pop and indie’s enthusiasm without any of the contrived quirk of whoever’s trying to be Belle and Sebastian, but hits surprisingly heavy.
In fact, that was one of the more surprising elements of this album: it has riffs. Guitarist Chad Smith ([put your own Red Hot Chili Peppers/Will Ferrel joke here]) comes from the Rivers Cuomo school of alt rock guitar: just because you’re alternative doesn’t mean you should be afraid of solos. The band’s sole guitarist, Chad Smith tosses around bone-crunching riffs, grinding rhythms, and tasteful solos around the whole record. The classic rock stomp of “Mannheim” is particularly stellar.
Even if “alternative rock” became a nebulous term around 1995, it still sticks to The Perms pretty well. Most of the group’s strength comes from using the muscular band setup/pop songcraft dichotomy codified by Nirvana and carried on by the Foo Fighters. Of note, “Make It Through” and especially the attack-release riff of “Slipping Away” sound like the Foos in workout mode. But even more generally, the band’s able match rock energy and hooks to great effect on “Skin and Bones” and personal favorite “You I’m Thinking Of” (Sofia Nights has a particularly strong middle section).
What really saves Sofia Nights from being faceless, though, is the unabashed enthusiasm and happiness that these guys have for their music. It’s not like MGMT’s smirking delivery, or an Arcade Fire knockoff’s clumsy freewheeling, it’s just pure enjoyment. It shows up in extra snappy drum beats (another instrumental highlight), punchy basslines, and singalong choruses without the slightest trace of irony or detachment. These guys don’t make pop songs because it makes money, they make them because they want to.
Overall, Sofia Nights is a bouncy little record that cuts across the indie/pop/rock spectrum. At 10 songs, it’s pretty much filler free (“Live For Today” is a little unnecessary), but the album can sound a little stretched for ideas by the end. Anyone looking for deep thoughts is better served elsewhere, but if you’re looking for something fun, and a crowdpleaser at that, then The Perms and Sofia Nights deserve a listen.