Few indie bands have shown a propensity for writing catchy pop hooks like Minneapolis’ Bad Bad Hats. Friday, August 3 marks the release of their new album Lightning Round (via their hometown label Afternoon Records), a strong offering following their breakthrough 2015 full-length debut.
Lightning Round puts singer Kerry Alexander’s innocent-sounding yet defiant songwriting at the forefront of pop melodies that will get stuck in your head after a single listen. This is a band that caught my attention the first time I heard “Midway” from their debut, mostly due to Alexander’s Meiko-like vocals. Though they hail from Minneapolis, there’s a slight Southern accent to Alexander due to early roots in Alabama.
On Lightning Round, Alexander and husband/multi-instrumentalist Chris Hoge fully commit to their fuller-fledged sound after experimenting with sparser acoustic numbers on their first record. Many of the tunes feature acoustic openings, before exploding into a denser soundscape by the first chorus.
Much of the subject matter has the band dealing with the trials and tribulations of being in a longterm relationship. “Tell me something I don’t wanna hear/Any excuse to disappear/Survived without you all these years/But now you’re here and I’m back in love again,” Alexander coos on the latest single “Nothing Gets Me High” — a song Alexander says turns Tove Lo’s classic “Habits (Stay High)” on its head, as Alexander has never used drugs before.
There’s a slight Donna Summer “I Love You, Always Forever” ’90s glimmer to many of the tracks, like opening tune “Make Me Nervous”. Lead single “Write It On Your Heart” leans heavily into an opening acoustic riff that would fit next to the pop punk of Nine Stories’ “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” on a NOW That’s What I Call Music compilation.
At times, the guitar riffs can seem monotonous and not ambitious enough, but Bad Bad Hats aren’t trying to be something they’re not. The repeating ice-cream-man like synths of “Girl” pull you in, as do the Sheryl Crow “Every Day Is a Winding Road” like melody. The simplicity of “Automatic” complement the vocal melody of Alexander perfectly.
“Talk With Your Hands” — another of the album’s advance singles — is my favorite track from the record. The slow build of the opening verse allows the chorus to hit you in the gut. “I lost myself a long way back/I’d leave it all if you love me back/The sweetest sound to echo back/Say after all, you love me back,” Alexander belts.
This record could best be described as a bubbly listen from start to finish. Like former tourmates Third Eye Blind, they conceal the deeper intense emotions of the words in the lush and disarming vocals of Alexander.
Bad Bad Hats
- Makes Me Nervous
- Write It On Your Heart
- Get What I Want
- Nothing Gets Me High
- Talk With Your Hands
- Absolute Worst