Tell Jared Swanson that his brainchild Abbot Kinney sounds like Radiohead and he'll probably respond with an exasperated sigh.
Every blogger and their mom (and their mom) has compared the project to the seminal '90s alt-rockers, which is a little misguided and, perhaps, a bit unfair as well. How would you like to be considered a shadow of one of the greatest bands in the history of rock and roll? Yes, Swanson's voice does contain an ominous edge reminiscent of Thom Yorke and, yeah, the songwriter thrives on pushing the limits of a pop song, turning radio-friendly melodies into something more atmospheric, with palpable darkness creeping around the edges and worming its way into the lyrics. But no, the darkness never wholly obscures the underpinning hope, the sense that things may, after all, turn out OK, a sense you rarely feel from the interminable melancholia of Kid A.
The new Abbot Kinney EP The Night continues the trend of turning the pop song on its head with arrangements intricate enough to keep you coming back for repeated listens but not pretentious enough to scare off the casual pop consumer. Single "Can We Become" echoes his 2010 self-titled debut LP that excelled in mixing heavier rhythms with more ethereal vocal lines. Yet it's the meat of the EP that displays Swanson's growth as an artist. Tracks like "It's the Middle of the Night" crackle with bristling energy and forward momentum that somewhat belies the sense of loss and longing that permeates the words. Crushing ballad "Let Me In" lulls you into a dreamlike state that hovers between dispirited wakefulness and numbing nightmare, a song about pain and the arduous path towards recovery.
"We Can't Stop Now" is the real knockout, however. It's one of the catchiest songs in the Abbot Kinney catalog, racing ahead with a punchy drumbeat, swooning with mellifluous vocal harmonies and swelling with U2-esque guitar accompaniment. It's close to the best of '80s new wave, revealing the pop heart at the dark soul of Swanson's music. This is the dance-floor-scorching height he is capable of, and here it is attained without succumbing to cheap sentimentality or dumbed-down instrumentation in the process.
The EP officially drops this Friday with a release show that night at Bottom of the Hill.Abbot Kinney