Listening to “Rock & Roll (Save My Soul),” the first track on Dirty Sidewalks’ debut album, will have a definite impact on fans of The Jesus and Mary Chain. It sounds so much like the Scottish shoegazers that there are those who may accuse Dirty Sidewalks of shameless plagiarism. It’s true that singer-songwriter-guitarist Erik Foster seems like he’s spent a lot of time listening to Automatic, but the chorus of “Rock & Roll (Save My Soul)” is so charmingly contagious that it’s kind of difficult not to love it anyway.
The JAMC damage fades away once Bring Down the House Lights gets going. The heavy chiming guitar that opens “Never Wanted to Be Loved” fills the ears and heart with an ecstatic rush, and the mini-bridge that introduces the guitar-based chorus is something remarkable.
Around this point is when it becomes clear that not only does Foster have a gift for melodies and harmonies, but that his brother, lead guitarist Evan Foster, possesses his own gifts. His playing throughout Bring Down the House Lights is astonishing, filled with unadulterated yearning, along with that jewel-toned yet gritty reverb that many guitarists aim for, but only a few attain. It’s not a surprise that he was asked to join the legendary Sonics on tour in 2017.
“Already” is a straight-up swooner, with a crush of reverb and echoed vocals. Just shy of three and a half minutes long, it might feel too short, but the next track, “Always,” picks up right where it leaves off, like a sequel that perfectly complements the original. The slow-burn into of “Heard You Wanna Kill Me” is gorgeous, but when the melancholy whine of Evan Foster’s guitar dips over the subtle chord progressions of Evan O’Neil’s bass line, it’s something beautiful to behold.
For those who miss the alternative music of the early naughts, you’ll be pleased to find there’s a bit of The Vines’ Highly Evolved album in these songs, particularly the impassioned “Lost My Way.” And for those who like their shoegaze with a dash of psychedelia, instrumental track “Black Holes” and “Where’s the Love” assert themselves nicely, particularly Evan Foster’s luminous guitar solo.
There’s a clever Echo and the Bunnymen reference in “Rock & Roll (Save My Soul)” and a smart bit of homonym play in “Heard You Wanna Kill Me,” but overall, the lyrics on Bring Down the House Lights are sometimes less than compelling. On the other hand, Erik sings with such sincerity that it hardly matters.
That said, the bittersweet “Never Be Alone” evokes the kind of hazy images that befit its lyrics: “From the moment to the meadow / I’ll follow you where you go / When the rain falls fast, it’s still too slow.” The song also brings the tone of the album to a more upbeat level — what some music critics might call “soaring” — with that “ending credits of a John Hughes movie” vibe (and that’s not even remotely meant as an insult).
Album closer “Either Way” presents an impeccably bittersweet chorus. Its lyrical cousin is David Bowie’s “Letter to Hermione” (“Does he do all the things for you / that you say that you want him to? / Or never learn at all?), while it owes something sonically to The Smith’s Johnny Marr. The song walks on the knife’s edge of joy and pain with exquisite style, a perfect ending to a truly enjoyable album.
Bring Down the House Lights was released on January 12 from No-Count Records (Cobraside Distribution).
Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.