764-Hero – Salt Sinks & Sugar Floats

3 out of 5

Label: Up Records

Produced by: Steve Wold (recorded by)

Ah, early 764-Hero, before John Atkins realized he could just embrace his ability to write the best Seattle indie pop – pleasant, slightly skewed, slightly sloppy, angsty with a smile tunes – and nervously tried to give his (then) drums & guitar duo some extra quirk: doing long-form minimalist tracks; doing hardcore-style shouty vocals. Nah. Just rely on Atkins’ ability to string together an instantly memorable melody out of a few notes, and Polly Johnson’s crisp, tight drumming – frenetic and controlled, perfect for the band.

SS&SF is about a half album’s worth of perfection, truly some of my favorite 764 tracks; I don’t mind the inclusion of some of those other elements when they’re effected as enhancements to the core song, so John getting loud on Sick of Apologizing is wonderfully intense, and Pitiful Rattle uses it stripped down beginnings to build and build.

After this, though, the album definitely hits a rut: Newly Fast’s punkiness feels kinda tired right after Rattle’s shouts, and then Quadrophenia tries to bring back the same minimalism, but with minimal payoff. We start cycling between variations on songs played best on the album’s first half thereafter, ending on the old (and rather tired) standby of a closing, short, acoustic track.

What’s also present right from the get-go of this album, though, is John’s lyrical abilities, nailing the disaffection / dissatisfaction of youth and young adulthood (and then adulthood, on later albums) without it ever coming across as too navel-gazey or, trying too hard for poignancy. His words are so natural and heartfelt, tying into the group’s eventually proven penchant for relatively unshowy pop.