A cursory listen to History Will Never Hold Me, the debut LP by Dallas-based The Hourly Radio, will probably cause the listener to lump the group in with the rest of the current crop of emo/indie-pop acts. Which is something the band, with its too-earnest vocals, overwrought songwriting, and soaring pop melodies, doesn’t always work terribly hard to counter. However, there are moments where the band transcends any potential limitations of said genre, and prove such knee-jerk reactions wrong.
Like the sadly underrated (and now sadly deceased) Elevator Division, The Hourly Radio’s seemingly generic indie-rock contains by a darker, post-punk undercurrent channeled from the likes of The Cure. Which gives “He Said/She Said“ ‘s vocals and lyrics (“So I’ll go on in doubt/Of ever having worked it out/You turn around and then off we go/You know I’m not that bad”), careening guitars, and churning bassline the energy necessary to make the band’s earnestness work.
“Crime Does Pay” finds the band harnessing the power of a decidedly dance-friendly beat, courtesy of Adam Vanderkolk’s shuffled drumming, while guitarists Closson and Ryan Short let loose cascades of chiming guitars that would make The Edge proud. And all this in a song that could be read as an account of some rather sordid sexual encounter.
“Stealing Off” is one of the album’s stronger tracks, primarily because the band slows down their pace, and allows the song to become a bit more expansive. Layers of silvery, shimmering guitars duck and dive while the drums step to a martial beat, and by the time Closson’s voice goes into earnest overdrive, the song has built up enough momentum and atmosphere for it to feel natural and unforced.
Which is important, because the band’s greatest liability right now is Aaron Closson’s voice. While it can certainly emote its little heart out, and hit Thom Yorke-ish crescendos, it can also be piercing and out of control. On “Deaf Ears,” Closson’s vocals shift from trembling whispers to yearning falsettos, and everything in between. Which becomes rather distracting from the hard-edged, charging post-punk rock the rest of the band is pumping out behind him. There are times when the music would benefit from a little restraint on his part (it certainly does on “Stealing Off”), or if he allowed his vocals to become a little rougher and less polished than they are.
But that sort of thing only comes with time. The good news is that The Hourly Radio are just starting out, and still have plenty of time to hone and perfect their music should they do so. They stand at a sort of crossroads. Go one way, and they’ll end up yet another flavor of the week, an indie-pop act that is indistinguishable from so many other peers. Go the other, more difficult way, thoroughly harnessing and integrating their darker, post-punk and British influences, and perhaps the flashes of brilliance that can be heard throughout History Will Never Hold Me will more fully manifest themselves.