They’re a busy band, Jake McKelvie and The Countertops. They drive their bouncy indie-rock all over New England. As a result, Solid Chunks of Energy has a show-honed tightness. The album’s thought-through, not overworked, sounding as though it developed naturally over many hours of playing or thinking about these songs. Its little rock and roll flourishes always sound intrinsic to the music, never tacked on. Its sound ranges from a cheekier Bright Eyes to a more literary Dead Milkmen. To get at the spirit of the album, the best reference point I can offer is Rocko’s Modern Life.
Jake writes words that fit his voice: morose, indignant, and above-all, weird. He sings as a character perpetually fed-up, someone petty and selfish. You’ll hear “I need you” quite a bit, but not one “I love you.” It’s fun to hear this character reason things out. Jake makes amusing and, in their own way, rationally sound arguments for staying home and being sad. Here’s a favorite: “…no one in the morning ever gives themselves to me, so why do I offer myself to the morning?” And another: “…I was at home sleeping on the couch, in front of the TV. / I know that’s not your favorite place for me to be, but it’s mine.”
The songs are typically written from a point of view of leaving, being left by, having been left by or even ditching someone (“I’m bringing you back to Nashville, but that doesn’t mean that I am coming too”). Jake makes common themes fresh with details like: “double clicks, triple titles,” “ticket stubs and rubber gloves and tooth decay” and “your caffeinated touch.” His long lines and constant rhyming brings to mind the most playful side of Bob Dylan. The words convey a real sense of a mind wandering, sometimes to claims as strange as, “Just forget about watching over me because I am the one who guards the angels.” You just never know where he’s going with something.
The band (wisely) prioritizes the lyrics, playing a rocking, supportive backdrop. The drums impel the right amount of punk-rock out of the upbeat songs, but settle in nicely for the slower songs. The bass follows the Ben Folds Five precedent for indie rock trios––getting away with more showiness than would fly if there were another guitar or if Jake were a busier guitarist. Overall, the rhythm section finds a good balance, rewarding but not stealing your attention with the music behind the verses. A variety of bass tones help prevent the album from settling into one flavor. These include a buzzy, hornet’s nest distortion and some sort of spacey phaser effect that I’m surprised I like, but I do––it’s used well.
There’s a compelling juxtaposition between the music’s liveliness and a singer who asks for “solid chunks of energy or liquid if you have to fake it.” This is most obvious at the emotional peak of “Aside from Your Hair,” when the band drops out except for tight, unison hits to mark the chord changes––a moment the song’s been building toward. At this peak of feeling, Jake complains, mostly, that he doesn’t feel enough:
But I swear my anger is not livid enough
and my memories are not vivid enough
and my nerves are not timid enough
and you are not forgiving enough
and I’m not really living enough to make any of this seem worthwhile.
It’s a clever moment on a very clever album.
Jake’s sense of humor and heart and the band’s sense of whimsy give Solid Chunks of Energy a distinct and consistent musical personality. You get to know them immediately, which is not to say they get old. In fact, I’ve been completely unbothered to have bits of these songs stuck in my head. It’s an album that deserves a close listen, whether you come for the words and stay for the band or vice-versa.