Unrepentantly melodic and wistfully lackadaisical, Mock Orange may be Indiana's finest musical export since John Mellencamp, or even David Lee Roth (remember them?). The decade-old quartet blends a revved-up retread of standard indie rock grooves with singing reminiscent of the Flaming Lips and a contemporary production sound. The result is one of the stronger EPs in recent memory, somewhat akin to late-lamented indie acts Castor or Friction.
Each of the First EP's five mid-tempo rockers sounds like a college radio hit waiting to happen. The guitars are overdriven but not heavily distorted. The heavier parts of the songs are majestic, guitar-fueled anthems, and the quieter passages (like the verse in "Doubledown") will make you feel like your life has passed you by. Singer Ryan Grisham's high-pitched slacker vocal imparts that forlorn resignation like soft, fuzzy lightning bolts. Lines like "my friends, we can all begin our life again, even if we die" (from "Doubledown") are sung with such resolve that they don't sound remotely hokey. The overall effect inspires a strange nostalgia for the mid '90s -- the sort of thing that only great indie rock can instill.
"The Free Ride" stands out as a bit stronger than the rest of the compositions by virtue of its syncopated rhythms and plethora of glorious hooks. The tune recounts the tired tale of a band's life on the road, but Grisham's delivery gives the theme fresh legs as a sort of self-empowerment song: "We're gonna drive all night, isn't that what you said?"
So why doesn't anybody seem to know about these guys? Well, some folks must, as the band has toured with higher-profile names, including Hot Water Music, Hey Mercedes and Cursive. And the group already has two prior full-lengths under their belt. A planned full-length album recorded with J.Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines), who was behind the decks for this EP, should continue to raise their profile. Judging from the First EP, the forthcoming album is definitely one to watch for; if this EP isn't the sound of a band hitting its stride, I don't know what is.