the rutabega – leading up to

3 out of 5

Label: Comedy Minus One

Produced by: the rutabega (?)

Sometimes I will praise a group for how much ground they cover. “You’ll never get bored!” I might proclaim; “This band covers all angles!” I also shout a lot, and use short, declarative statements. …Which feels fitting for the rutabega, a band who seems to prefer lower-case for their band and album and song names, and are at their best when being short and declarative – punchy tracks that get to the point of their crunchy rock riffing. But I wouldn’t necessarily be using the same praise as above, as the shifts in style employed on ‘leading up to,’ while showing proficiency in different modes, end up less satisfying than those punchy moments, where the group’s sound is approximating something else – emo urgency, a la Jimmy Eat World; slow-burn Low lilting; folksy Eleventh Dream Day noise – and thus dodging to the left or right of the kind of confidence of doing its own thing. And if you’re a fan of any of these styles, rutabega’s version is fine, just begging a “maybe I’ll go listen to that band” reminder, as there’s nothing quite definitive – aurally, lyrically – to make the group stand out.

This is a quality that’s less apparent when they’re just drilling down on some instantly head-bobbing melodies, the rather vague lyrics also getting punch from a few key lines that might tap into timely fears and concerns of our politically and socially confused world. And the album is successfully book-ended by these highlights, which is a good way to go: grabbed from the start, and given a reminder before you leave that there are moments of magic here.

Repeat visits to sharpen up the midsection’s sounds-like niggles, suggesting if you hear it here first, rutabega have a good chance of providing a pleasing definition of these different styles. Leading up to is solid in that sense – every track does its thing with energy and polish, and produced with warmth but depth – so it’s certainly not a bad one-stop shop for such things, and I’ll admit to humming these tunes for quite a while after.