When you mix together John Lennon’s sense of sarcasm, carnal proto-punk volatility, old fashioned pop framework and contemporary high definition mixing, you get The Travoltas’ all new eponymous studio album. Sporting muscular basslines and throttling guitar riffage that isn’t shy about indulging in a throwback melody here and there, songs like “I Can’t Say No,” “Ghost of Your Love” and “Mail Ya to Australia” vault back and forth between the old school rock n’ roll vitality of yesteryear and a sound that is much more anthemic and steeped in modernity. Some tracks take a minute to find their footing, but even in the case of the stoic “Blame My Baby” or the irreverent “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar,” the lyrical content is smart, evocative and chock full of intellectualism that isn’t snobby or egotistical in the slightest. Out this December everywhere that indie music can be sold and streamed, The Travoltas’ new record isn’t the sort of the fodder for millennial influencers that has become woefully dominant in mainstream radio as of late. This LP is provocative and decidedly unpredictable, and what it lacks in commercial varnish is more than makes up for in original flare and flamboyance.
The centerpiece of The Travoltas is the conflicting relationship between its music and lyrics, which is highlighted most opulently in “Making Out,” “Work of Art,” “Ghost of Your Love,” “Tower of Strength,” and of course the brilliant closing track “Thing.” In all of these songs, the lyrical narrative is skewed by a pointed, abstract rhythm that goes against the grain of what we’d typically expect a song about love, sex or simply missing someone to sound like. “Thing” is visceral and primitively structured, relying on a stop/start dynamic that most would consider a staple of 90’s alternative rock, but the substance of the verses is anything but flannel-clad. Sexuality is a consistent theme in this album, and even when it’s not directly implied in the words it’s represented in the pulsating energy of tracks like “Blame My Baby,” “Crying Shame,” and even “Did I Lose You at I Love You?.” On the surface these songs couldn’t be much more different, but upon closer analysis are beholden to intricacies that go beyond what critics like myself anticipate when acquiring a new rock record.
In a year that has left many of us musically underwhelmed, The Travoltas offer up an organically crafted studio piece that exploits the very best of the rock n’ roll barrel. Unlike similarly stylized records, The Travoltas isn’t derivative by design or even overzealous when it comes to wearing the band’s influences on its sleeve. “Mail Ya to Australia” feels more like a love letter to the ironic blues-influenced pop of the 1950’s than it does a cheap recreation of vintage beats, and “Snowball” takes from 70’s funk and 80’s post-punk synth rock equally. This album reminds me a lot of a Quentin Tarantino movie in that the textures, and even some of the characteristics on a cosmetic level, are familiar but translated in a way that I’ve never seen or heard them before. If that’s not authentic alternative rock at its finest, nothing is.