Sometimes things that are really good announce themselves without much fanfare, sidling up with an extended hand and a quiet smile, to whisper, “Howdy, I’m some of that good shit you’ve been looking for and didn’t even know it.” This is how charm operates, particularly in the musical realm, where a careful balance of newness and well-established winning moves is required to leap over the hurdles of familiarity and rote and still hit a communal sweet spot. San Francisco’s Animal Party makes that leap with dexterous grace, sure footed through some of the most charming pop splashed rock to emerge this year.
The band’s recently released debut album, Walk On Stars, flows from crunchy, high energy rockers through old school love songs and more, an assured, hungry trio – Kiyoshi Foster (vocals, guitar, songwriting, keys), Mark Calderon (bass) and Evan Bautista (drums) – putting their shoulders into it. There’s the feel of prime 70s killers given a contemporary polish, the direct, muscular sound and general vibe akin to Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight, Peter Frampton’s marvelous 1975 self-titled record, or Aerosmith’sRocks, where the full-throated powerhouse singing, consistently strong songs and studio-elevated but live-on-the-floor feel actively scoop one up – music of great embrace and no shortage of grip once it gets a hold of you.
The guitar work is sexy as hell with Foster getting a skilled hand from DI fave Sean Leahy on four tracks where the pair run their fingers through your hair and rifle through your pockets. In short, you feel it when these two lay it down. Other guests include Turi McClain (violin), Tea Leaf’s Trevor Garrod (piano), Forrest Day (sax) and more, each turn smartly placed, each a flavor that accentuates the positive by serving the songs in appealingly focused ways. A chunk of the album’s sonic success goes to co-producer Jeremy Black, who once again exhibits his ability to pull out the best in artists without leaving undue fingerprints. Everyone blowing their kid’s college funds on Jacquire King and Ethan Johns needs to get hip to Black and his cool Oakland lair Coyote Hearing Studio.
Animal Party proves adept at forceful, pleasantly snarling rockers (“The Sun Will Rise” has a grinning, rowdy bite worthy of Arctic Monkeys), bouncing pop-rock (the song “Animal Party” could be the greatest Split Enz tune not written by a Finn brother), soaring, gently exploratory anthems (the title cut and “Easy Wave” are genuinely transporting listening experiences), and further widens their scope in the album’s second half with the vintage Motown skip of “One Soft Kiss” and radio-ready “Your Heart (Needs To Be Free),” which is kind of the ballad Jack Johnson has been trying to pull off his whole career but not nearly as successfully – seriously, Foster completely sells a line like, “Sweet is the fairy of the summer on my tongue” with loverman skill. More than any specifics, it’s the overall feel of Walk On Stars that works at casting a spell that draws one out – out of their head, out of a bad day, out of the shadows. It’s a charmer through and through and as pleasing a first outing as the Impound has encountered in recent years.