Ever since I saw Washington Social Club at the inaugural Pop Montreal festival
two years ago, they've been one of my favorite bands -- a distinction they won through the strength of their energetic performances and the quality of their EP, sold only at their shows. To say that I've been looking forward to their debut would be a definite understatement; my expectations were enormous.
Happily, Catching Looks doesn't disappoint. All the qualities that make the band so special, and that make their live show so enjoyable, have made the transition to disc. Frontman Martin Royle (who, for some reason, no longer goes by the name "Marty Social") is as dynamic as ever, given free rein to yelp, howl, croon and sing his way through these eleven songs, while at the same time providing each tune with the most danceable guitar melodies imaginable. He's helped by an exceptional rhythm section, particularly bassist Olivia Mancini, whose grooves snake through each song and make it impossible not to want to move.
The resultant songs encapsulate the pop-rock aesthetic that made The Strokes' debut so much fun; every tune is tailor-made for dancing. Of course, The Strokes would never allow themselves to sound this joyfully unconcerned about their own coolness. The "oooh-ahhh"s at the end of "Breaking The Dawn", the stop-start drumming in "Dancing Song" that's clearly there for the audience to clap along to, the reggae-tinged beat of "Charlie The Russian" that gives way to a full-on guitar freakout every chorus -- all are evidence of a band that cares more about enjoying themselves than how they look (as if Royle's mocking of hipsters at shows by telling everyone to "do the indie", and then standing still with his arms crossed, didn't already confirm this).
I can't help but feel a little sad about Catching Looks. Where before I felt like Washington Social Club were a great secret that not too many people were in on, this album is sure to make them a lot better-known (as will their stint this summer on the Vans Warped tour). Then again, I've felt like I've had them to myself for two years, and as Catching Looks shows, they're ready to be exposed to a much wider audience. I guess it's time to share.