Sunny Hill Lane by Easily Amused is driving me crazy, literally. Somewhere between the dueling guitars, thrashing drums, and four-part vocals, they’ve hooked me with that back-of-the-class high school mentality I’ve strived so hard in recent years to lose. My mind is on overdrive. I’m laughing at my own fart jokes. My exuberance is uncontrollable. Dear god someone help me!
Now please do not read this the wrong way; it is not that the band is juvenile or dim, it’s just that the personality that shines through their music has been so long forgotten in contemporary pop that I almost mistook it for a gimmick. It is genius in its simplicity yet emotional by way of self-degradation.
Easily Amused is Kevin Laibson, bassist and lead singer, Greg Frey and Ryan Maxwell on guitars, and Joe Burch slamming the drums. The group formed in Ridgewood, New Jersey to appease 50 screaming twelve year olds. Frey, Laibson, and Maxwell were part of the original lineup to be joined by Burch, a friend of Laibson’s from acting school. Legend has it that Maxwell formed the band to play at the backyard birthday party of his girlfriend’s kid sister. The lineup has changed since 99, yet the drive remains singular: to create intelligent power-pop music.
With their recent release on eMpress Records, EA strikes a derisive blow to ex-lovers, alcoholics, therapy and themselves. This album is nothing if not lyrical and self-hating. No other Philadelphia band sings songs about eating mushrooms and reading TS Elliot (I dare you, people!) yet in the next song lyrically defy peer pressure by exclaiming, “It’s none of your beeswax.” Now you mustn’t be a member of the intelligentsia to enjoy the disk; however, it does help when Laibson makes reference to Chuck Palhniuk, great psychotherapists, and Steinbeck (I think).
Where other bands in the genre fall short, Easily Amused excels. Frey and Maxwell play in a vicious tandem of machine gun rhythm and soaring lead. Check out the solo on “Forever” for a taste of 80’s dual lead guitar a la EA. Their two guitar attack makes for genius arrangements; Frey is often referred to as “the Professor” because of his savant ability to take songs and make them totally original while maintaining their hook. “Forever”, a pop-punk waltz, also showcases their mastery of different types of music.
Easily Amused plays a decent live show if you like to get your face rocked off. This past Saturday they played a blistering 12 song set at The Grape Street in celebration of their new album. EA assaulted the crowd with a mix of pop, punk, and hilarity. They paused, momentarily, for Laibson to take a stab at a fatherly pun involving covers and keeping you warm. Also, Maxwell made a joke about everyone’s mom, as is his custom.
I would be cheating the man if I did not mention that Burch commands the stage more than any other drummer I have had the pleasure to hear. His kick and snare never missed a beat and along with Laibson’s bass the two provide a perfect rhythm for the guitars and four part harmonies. EA’s genius arrangements are further stretched to accommodate the live show. “Sugarglass,” the third track on Sunny Hill Lane, is broken in two by a barbershop interlude reminiscent of a Phish cut-up.
Over the course of 45 minutes EA rocked the Grape Street crowd harder than Vanilla Ice with crowd favorites like “Ugly” and Frey’s interpretation of “I Touch Myself.” A group of errant pub crawling females enjoyed the latter so thoroughly they might have thrown an undergarment (or two) at the stage. Having heard both, I am torn to decide if “Sugarglass,” “Always/Never,” and “Morning Person” are better live or on the disc. One of the bands strongest songs “10:16” didn’t even make Sunny Hill Lane which shows promise for future albums. If EA continues to rock Philly clubs as rad as they did Saturday, this will be one of many articles drafted on their behalf.
Now as far as the review goes…I love the sound. The arrangements and general feel of the album are superior. You can tell that genuine thought is put into the songs before they are written and not thrown in afterwards like so many other bands. It really seems like these guys play with, instead of at, each other. The album strings together well, although I would have liked to have part of their acoustic set represented in wax. Also, Burch’s drums are unstoppable live, but can be distracting in parts of the album. I say take away one of his cymbals and let the man rap like he does on stage. That sh*t is too funny.
Buy Sunny Hill Lane and have a great summer!
Sunny Hill Lane was produced and engineered by Big Daddy Steve Cacciutti. Purchase the album and learn more about Easily Amused at www.easilyamusedband.com. For booking information contact Yaron Gabai at www.jaggededge.us.