The Twelve AM – Pretty Noise – Album Review
Indie-Rock from Connecticut to wherever you are out there in the world right now – come get a piece of the spirited energy you’ll find running throughout The Twelve AM’s new record Pretty Noise. Dig these guys…reading the backstory on The Twelve AM will reveal there’s a ton of heart at the center of this crew, who have been taught through firsthand experience to get the heck out there & seize the day.
So they have. And now they’re here. New record, just like that, voila, Pretty Noise.
Alright…there might be a little more to it all than that – but that’s why you wanna head over to their pages & find out more – I’m just here to entice ya a little & talk music with ya – so let’s do that.
“Punk Drunk” is a killer start to the whole experience…very much in the vein of one of my favorite bands in the Alt-Rock scene, Feeder. If you listen to the mix of sound, the crispiness to the it all in the treble-up tones of the guitars and all-encompassing atmosphere The Twelve AM create with big drum beats kickin’ it up from the back all the way to the front, and even the clever filter/mix on the vocals as well – the ingredients stack up nicely to a style of music I’m more than happy to have more of any day. Love and inspiration are in the air, the sweetness comes through…similar to a Pumpkins-style structure in that sense too…early days, of course…you know, the good stuff, Pisces Iscariot on backwards all the way to the beginnings with Siamese Dream and Gish. Enticing no doubt though, the energy is there for sure, the music & vocals sound great & fit perfectly together – most importantly, “Punk Drunk” has that uplifting spark of accessible sound that’ll get people stoked for whatever’s next to come.
I’ll admit I do have my moments with the mix a few times on this record…some spots where I’m not sure if they’ve overfilled the sound or crossed that red-line threshold a bit…”Run With The Bulls” has a bit of that goin’ on. That being said, I happily listen to music for the ideas and passion behind them just as much as I do the sound of it all – that’s why I have been, and still remain, a proud listener of music like Superchunk & Sparklehorse to this very day, willing to reach all the way back to the grittiest early recordings and demos just because I freakin’ LOVE the texture and the sincerity that still cuts through that rawness – and you’ll find a similar magic in the music of The Twelve AM. To over refine it would take so much of what makes this band special right out of it. You’ll notice the difference though when they take those opportunities to let the notes or cymbals ring out a bit and the clarity it’ll bring to those moments, which works…I mean ultimately I feel like I know what they’re going for here, but I might be on the side of cleaning this one up just a lil’ bit. They’ll apply similar techniques in a few cuts throughout this record where I’ll happily argue from the other side of this fence, but on this particular track, which is undoubtedly a potential single-worthy kind of tune, it might be enhanced by a bit more smoothing of the grit. Hard to say…like I said, I wouldn’t want to damage the magic of what they’ve got going on one bit – it’s just what I’m hearing…and it is something you’ll notice from tune to tune in the sense that this issue will go away altogether at times, like it does when “Elope” starts out with such clarity to follow.
“Elope” has The Twelve AM starting to add a bit more noticeable Pop-edge to the hooks in the chorus, approaching sing-along territory with a part strong enough to get the crowd behind them. Highly effective and appealing on a heartfelt & sincere level that connects right to the sweetness in your soul – “Elope” deals with emotions in a bright & beautiful way. Verifiably charming – “Elope” has a playful thread and continues to shine-up the uplifting thread in the sound of The Twelve AM that always seems to exist strongly in the songwriting. Much as you’d assume with the title, “Elope” could potentially be interpreted as a love song I’m sure – but to me, this ended up being much more about that feeling of diving off the cliff of your own life and just going for it – whatever that might be for you personally. “Throw all our cares away, seize the day, whaddya say?” – I mean, they’ve put it better than I could, those are their words in “Elope,” not mine…but that’s a perfect example of the uplifting vibes at work in the music & mission of The Twelve AM…kind of their theme-statement almost. Overall, they’ve done a great job on this cut and loaded it with lots of catchy movement in the way they play it, the sweetness in the main hooks that you’re looking to hear, and the confidence & skill to combine it all into a flow that stays constantly appealing & interesting to the ears. Hooks-wise…there’s definitely an argument to be made that the ones you’ll find in the chorus of “Elope” are some of the strongest you’ll find on the record…and if that’s how you feel, you’d get no pushback from me, I’d respect that opinion. Though I’d probably be tempted to add that there’s really nothing out of place here…the verse is nearly just as strong, leaving just enough room really for that chorus to make an impact – the fact is that they’ve got a track here that makes its mark in all areas from lyrics to execution, “Elope” is a great tune. Fun video to support it too – check it out below!
If you were into the underground scene of the 90’s…not the mainstream Grunge circuit, but the scene right underneath it that all those hitting it big truly worshipped…bands like Dinosaur Jr., Built To Spill, Big Star – or like, anything off of the Empire Records Soundtrack…that kind of stuff…you’ll find those similarities in the influence on the sound of a song like “Almost Gone.” At the very least, it’s right up my alley – there’s little to no question about this being one of my favorite cuts on Pretty Noise – it’s got solid hooks, vocals that fit the mix perfectly, and a brilliant short-but-sweet solo in there too…all this & more really, I think it might be the drums that walk away with the unsung hero award here even; they’re so consistently awesome on “Almost Gone” that in a way I could see their individual impact escaping people somehow with all the other great things going on. But again…have a listen to those mid-section records in Feeder’s career and you’ll find a much similar sound, right up to and including the smart Pop-punch of how the hooks are designed & sung. The smart decisions to let the instrumentation have its own moments surrounding the main vocal parts is important too, and they’re making great moves there…because at the end of the day, believe me, they’ve got vocals that completely fit this whole vibe spot-on, but there’s every bit as much reason to be listening to the music and the hooks there too.
I think these guys have got something awesome going on really…the songs are actually written a lot like a lot of bands I love, but with just a bit more edge. I’m talking bands from a similar 90’s timeline, but different direction of the alt-rock vein like Echobelly, The Odds, The Killjoys, & Big Star…The Twelve AM are ultimately nothing like the actual sound of any of those bands, but that’s the kind of brightness & sweetness that you’ll find in the writing, with a decidedly more lively & thrashing sound, which again to me, is ultimately a lot more like Feeder bang-on than anything else. I mentioned I’m a huge fan of that band right? Hmm yes? Alright then…safe to say you can get an idea of what I think about The Twelve AM then too right? Good, good. As I’ve said many times here at the pages – if it was just another copy of a band I already know, I probably wouldn’t love it nearly as much…The Twelve AM offer their own thang, don’t get me wrong, but they do certainly remind me of one of my favorite bands that’s ever existed out there with Feeder. Fun fact that might encourage this Connecticut band even more – Feeder is like, good lord, damn near unknown on this side of the pond with the exception of “High” appearing on the Can’t Hardly Wait Soundtrack years & years ago – but over on the other side, where they’ve been thriving in the UK for decades now – you’ll have found this band playing MASSIVE festivals and headlining shows of all kinds. And then of course, there are derivatives of that sound that would occur later on and eclipse them entirely, like the Stereophonics, who again, play small venues here when they come to Canada or the US, and giant-sized stadiums back home. So if ANYONE out there is wondering if there’s a market for The Twelve AM, believe me, there definitely is…and if they can’t find it at home for some reason, which I’m sure they will – I mean they damn well SHOULD – but I’m just saying if for some reason they can’t, hightail it overseas to the UK where songs like “Lipstick Red” and bands like theirs will be appreciated as much as they should be. Tracks like these are gold as far as my ears are concerned – I think there’s a great treble-up tone, excellent build in the structure that pays off sweetly in the chorus, and the drums again, never quit on ya…always seems to be awesomeness pouring out of the amps and from the kit when it comes to this crew. Bass even this time around – I felt like you got a stronger dose of what’s being laid down there as well on “Lipstick Red” – it’s just a really well thought-out tune from beginning to end…nothing to complain about here. It might not be the first track that people notice from the Pretty Noise record with its gentle demeanor & whispered vocals, but I’m confident that it will certainly be one of the reasons that they come back to it time & again throughout the years to follow.
I will happily get sucked into the intimate & isolated sounds of a melody like “Guitar Boys” any day of the week and twice on…Monday? Well…I wrote part of this on Sunday at least. I’ll admit I always have to check the calendar because I never ever know what day it really is other than the number. Spoiler alert though, I’ve played this song many times more than just twice…and even though it’s no longer Sunday, I’m sure you get the idea. “Guitar Boys” should go and marry “Space Girl” by The Killjoys and head off to the area they describe in their song “Someplace” to celebrate their union. You’ll find that innocence here on this short & sweet acoustic-led melody…it’s got that humble stripped-down sound that brings the rest of the world around you to a crashing halt for just a moment, to let you chill right out with a beautiful & captivating sound like this. With a sweetness like Deep Blue Something and writing closer to the Plain White T’s, somewhere in the middle of that, you find a tender little tune like “Guitar Boys” existing gracefully. Much like on “Punk Drunk” at the beginning, you’ll find the lyrical themes drift between life, love, and music itself – and I think that adds a lot of intangible magic in the music of The Twelve AM…it ends up coming out sounding like a genuine journal of what’s happening right in the here & now for the band, which ends up echoing that sentiment of being in the moment and the overall mission that they’re on. Partly a beautiful ode to the guitar, partly an insightful warning of what’ll happen if you let them boys play with those Fenders & Gibsons out there, “Guitar Boys” is a sweet celebration of what pulls us right into the musical universe and keep us there for the rest of time.
So here’s where things get tricky…because there’s an argument to be had surrounding a track like “Heart Beats.” I’ll be clear from the drop – this is probably what I’d consider to be the crown jewel of the album – and again, that’s as it IS, as it has been recorded, just like it sounds right now. That’s where I’m at. Not only do I think the writing & hooks are flawless, I think personally that this style of sound that crashes & collides and helps shapes these melodies into more mammoth & memorable moments seems to suit them just fine if you ask me – I love every single thing about “Heart Beats” and it truly fills me with the unique & pure radiant joy that only a great Indie Alt-Rock tune can provide. Would there be producers and people out there listening that might be looking for a track with such slick writing & strong hooks to come out slightly more smoothly? I have no doubt about it – but I’m tellin’ ya, if you take that part of the recipe out, you’ll find the rest of the meal lacks that flavor you’re craving; I’m more than fine with the crackle of a great idea and the spark of inspiration being something you can hear like you will on “Heart Beats.” They’ve got three vids prepped and out there for Pretty Noise already – “Elope,” which you’ve seen up top – but also “Run With The Bulls” and “My Autumn” at the end of the record as well. All I’m saying is that “Heart Beats” should definitely be examined as the next possibility at the very least. Verse is great, chorus takes it up several notches as well – that’s all well & good – the hooks exist pretty much everywhere, but perhaps particularly in the music of this cut. That main guitar line is a powerful one…arguable strong enough to bring an army of people in to listen to this album – the fact that it gets to have its longest solo is purely a bonus by the time we get there and also leads into the most impactful rendition of the chorus when exiting out of that solo and back into the vibrant hooks of “Heart Beats.” The longest song on the record…don’t get me wrong, I get it, I get it – you don’t find too many songs out there at 5:30+ becoming singles…so I understand it…BUT…all I’m advocating on behalf of is the fact that they’ve really got something special here with this song and the connection it’ll have with listeners out there. Again, if you’re a fan of bands like Dinosaur Jr., Built To Spill, or Superchunk – you’ll completely find a similar sound and energy in the music of The Twelve AM that’ll stroke that sweet-spot in your speakers perfectly for ya. To me personally, “Heart Beats” was without question one of the record’s most memorable moments…every time those guitar hooks fire up, I fall in love with this tune all over again…an amazing example of a song not just being about what’s being played, but how.
I’ll take “New Girl,” it’s still more of a sound I love and as well-played as any of the rest of the cuts are on Pretty Noise. Does it further the story of the record or the band? That part I’m not as sure of. I’m more on the fence with this cut than the rest by comparison for some reason…which I’ll admit, can be the effect of any song that comes after what you might consider to be the highlight on any given record. So there’s that to consider, “New Girl” has the toughest slot to fit in coming after “Heart Beats” – and I think after the expressive opportunity that a five-plus minute song allowed them to take on, heading back to the three-minute range felt like it took “New Girl” back towards a bit more typical terrain by comparison. Best way I can put it is that there are a few changes that create that effect beyond just a shorter song length…like look at the description on “Elope” from earlier on…how it kind of implies it’ll be about one thing & largely would probably end up being interpreted as about something else altogether – “New Girl” is kind of the opposite side of that style of writing, way more straightforward & direct. Verse/chorus-wise…like I said, I’ll take it – it’s still more of a good thing; but I do think that compared to each and every track around it on this record, not just “Heart Beats,” that you’ll find more compelling material surrounding “New Girl” and that it kind of stands out a lil’ bit by being more ordinary. Essentially I think the hooks of the verse of “New Girl” are pretty much as strong as those in the chorus, making the movement & sound of this song perhaps a bit too static to pique the interest as it should.
“Empty” got things back on course for me, taking a sweetened path towards the sound of this second-to-last cut from the new album. In some ways, it’s more laid-back than a lot of the material on the album, but more up-tempo than say, “Guitar Boys” was earlier-on…so it nestles right in between the more rock-inclined cuts and that intimate acoustic tune. Pleasant, quaint, and charming in its own subtle way, “Empty” is a strong track on Pretty Noise and a song where you’ll find The Twelve AM making clever choices that strengthen the melody & results. Like…hmm…okay, I think the best way I can put it, is to listen to the dynamics of the music and what’s being offered there…and you’ll hear the vocals not necessarily stray away from them, but likely use each moment of the music in a different way than you might expect – and I dig that, you don’t really expect that in gentle vibes like these. And ultimately, I think a lot of singers would be tempted to stick right to the movement of the music on a song like “Empty,” but that’s where The Twelve AM again shows some additional professionalism, maturity, and smart choices in how to serve the song by letting the instrumentation and music have its own turns in the spotlight along the journey. Lyrically & vocally, another good match…I think that distance you’ll often find in the whispered style of singing & melodies that The Twelve AM often bring to the mic works much to their favor in the chorus of this song…it adds to the meaning of the words. Relatable in that sense that I think most people out there, if not all of us, have felt the emptiness that can occur when someone we love leaves in any capacity, whether it’s through death, moving, drifting apart – it’s all a part of a cycle of emotions unique to us personally, but shared universally as well. I’ve got no doubt that the people out there will get “Empty” and the inviting & welcoming sound that it contains, contrasting beautifully inside of a song that’s kind of about saying goodbye in many ways. That being said…”Empty” explains the reality of the situation – but its tone always implies hopefulness – and as we all well know, when it comes to life & love, second-chances are abundant and things can change multiple times as we grow and evolve into the people we become; so while there’s definitely a desolate emotion communicated through “Empty,” there’s still potential for things to all work out.
I think the hardest song to figure out was probably “My Autumn” at the end of the album honestly. Sometimes I’d listen to this cut and feel like it worked well enough…I’m not entirely sure it really makes a definitive impact as an ending to a record necessarily, but it’s still an ambitious tune that does try to do things a bit differently than some of the others you’ll find on the record to some extent. To some degree, I think it’s the polar opposite effect of “Empty” and how the vocal flow of the verses on “My Autumn” are paired so closely with the movement of the music…it ends up with having the effect of things being different in the writing, but perhaps too similar in the execution of each instrument involved in creating it. I do like the imagery in the lyrics, I also really like that there’s a lot of different parts in the structure of “My Autumn,” which again, has the advantage of a little more length than the majority of these tunes to make that happen and expand their ideas. I’m not entirely sure that they haven’t left a hook on the table here though…that one sweet line of “Can’t forget my Autumn” seems like it should have gotten a couple repeats or something in there, nestled right in with the churning grind of guitars and explosion afterwards…and then I can even hear it potentially coming back in a call & answer through the final chorus maybe too. From about 2:15 on-forward, I absolutely love this tune – I think that’s the moment where it goes from good to great when that guitar solo begins and the inventive breakdowns occur afterwards; the band sounds fantastically tight and unified as they make the final push into the blissfully dreamy hooks they’ve got on “My Autumn” and bring the album to a close with a short deconstruction at the very end & fade out.
All-in-all, I’ve had an excellent time listening to The Twelve AM…I dig what I’m hearing now, and I dig where I think they can go in the future as well…they’re building on a timeless sound as far as my ears are concerned, one that I know firsthand has held up for me just about as long as I’ve been listening to music. Lots here to love and every reason to encourage a band like this to continue on, Pretty Noise is full of great energy, spirited Indie-Rock vibes, and beautiful sentiment…the whole record’s aura is surrounded in a warm & inviting glow through the welcoming hooks & smooth vocals of The Twelve AM – definitely the kind of charming appeal and vibrant melodies that a ton of people will love to turn up.
Find out more about The Twelve AM from their official website at: www.thetwelveam.com