The Incurables: 4 Play

The Incurables’ new 4-song EP “4 Play” is a fascinating snapshot of a band revisiting some of their key influences. With this band, it’s particularly interesting, because…as I wrote in my review of “I Don’t Feel So Well…” and the song “Eloise,” they can have several completely different influences on one track, and they somehow pull them all together.

“4 Play” offers three tracks…“Letter On The Desk,” “Never Let Her Go,” and “Glam”…each with a more or less “singular” style, while the fourth bonus track, “Stop The World,” pulls many of those influences into one song.

The ability to mix and match genres and styles at will, and in whatever proportions are necessary for the song at hand, is one of the things that makes The Incurables so distinctive. They’re skilled and seasoned musicians who have a lifetime of combined musical history among their members, and they aren’t bound by one single point of focus. To be able to make these shifts and still deliver an album or EP that feels like it has a center and is “whole” on its own terms is no simple task, and this band handles it with aplomb.

The opener, “Letter On The Desk,” is a blast ofrevved up Byrds-sounding rock. A key element is found in the way that the lyrics are delivered in a split solo / group style…“The letter on the desk explains…” (solo vocal)…”…the difference between us…” (harmony vocals). That’s the way Rodger, David, Gene and Chris did it, that’s the way The Incurables do it on this track. The rhythm guitar, the solos, the vocals are all a ringing tribute to The Byrds. The guitar solos have the same Middle-Eastern flavored ring that was employed by The Byrds, and remember…Jim McGuinn has gone on record as saying he was listening to John Coltrane on the Byrds bus when he wrote “Eight Miles High.”

“Never Let Her Go” is pure British Invasion a la Herman’s Hermits, with a distinctively Noone-ish lead vocal. What’s also interesting is that Peter Noone jumped head-first into the “New Wave” school of louder, punk-ier, power pop with his band The Tremblers, and that’s the style in play here. The pauses in the vocal delivery…”I see her…through the windows…that…let no light..” are a key element in that sound. Some bands pick up on the surface-level elements of a sound, and in doing so, arrive at a one-dimensional result. The Incurables go deep, they pick up on the subtle nuances that are perhaps missed at first glance, and they make them the centerpiece of their tunes. That’s why the listener has a deep, resonant reaction to their music. The band didn’t just hear these nuances, they absorbed them, knew they were the key, and utilized everything in the toolkit to craft a song that rings with authenticity.

“Glam” is full-on, punk-infused, bombastic garage music. Opening with an intricate bass riff before the band crashes in at full force, there’s a brilliant “turn around” riff at the 16 second mark that launches them into the vocals, shouted and anthemic, and as the song’s title implies, there’s a heaping helping of Glam Rock a la Bowie in his Spiders From Mars / Mick Ronson era, with breathy “aaaaaaah” punctuations that are straight out of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy.” There are so many subtle touches…at the 42 second mark there is a “YEAH” that is a pure Bowie yelp. And to make things even more interesting, the vocals are delivered in a mix of the Bowie sound with the urgency found in the earliest, hardest-rocking style of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Every member of the band brings something special to the table, but on this track bassist Ray Lawson…a key propellant of the aforementioned “Eloise”…is the anchor point, the riff-driven catalyst for the bash and bang of the ensemble playing. In tandem with the guitars, he pulls off a magnificent turnaround at the 1 minute mark, right before the guitar solo, which is laced with killer squeals and pinch harmonics, before the turnaround is reintroduced and the verses resume. There’s a Ron Asheton / Stooges energy which also permeates the track and is a touchstone to the band’s Michigan roots. The ending of the song made me break out into a huge smile and laugh out loud…”And all I gotta say is I really don’t care, YEAH!” How perfect is that? How well did the band crystallize the sound AND the attitude of this era?

“Stop The World” is a previous song re-worked by the band for this release…”Stop the world, cause we don’t want to play…” It blends bits and pieces of the styles named above into a bittersweet “state of our nation” narrative, a plea for sanity and restoration in a world divided. It begins with, and is punctuated with, current news headlines, as the band offers a plea for sanity. It shows the depth and scope of the band…at one minute, they can be the single greatest party band in America, at another, they can employ introspection and insight and they do it all, seamlessly, with clarity, passion, and precision.

“4 Play” is a must-have release from a band that has been the one to watch in 2019, and will continue to be as such in 2020.