The Alice Rose, one of the tens (if not hundreds) of power-pop bands currently floating around Austin, pose an interesting dilemma for fans, promoters/booking agents, and critics alike. Live they cross over to some of Austin’s seediest punk clubs where a great bar band playing ferocious power pop is welcome while also still being accepted in more innocuous haunts serving up adult modern rock. The quintet isn’t apt to cater their set or sound to the club and other bands on the bill; they just have enough edge to be welcomed into the dark or perhaps they lack enough edge to be invited into the light. On their sophomore album, All Haunt’s Sound, this conundrum has never been more evident and – for better or worse – the band chooses to shoot out of the dive bars and aim for radio stardom.
From the get-go on the album opener, “She Did Command”, the decision to appeal to the masses and make a tight studio album is completely evident. The album starts out less with a bang and more with a whimper. When JoDee Purkeypile sings, “C’mon join the party/4 am against the wall,” it’s hard to want to be at the party. Where as Cheap Trick got your ass shaking, your fist pumping, and the beer flowing, The Alice Rose seems content to just chug along like wallflowers at a cocktail hour. Sadly, throughout the album, this lack of energy and spook (for lack of a better description) is consistently missing. To be completely honest, maybe it’s just the beer and hazy nights clouding this critic’s memory, but live there were a lot of blistering guitar solos, pounding drums, and ferocious vocals. The album on the hand, is laced with moments like on “Waste Away” and “Agony Aunt” where the backing vocals and harmonies sound great, but the band never swaggers and soars. Instead, it just rolls over until “Maybe A Rise,” where Brendan Rogers’ keyboards and Sean Crooks and Greg White’s guitars finally lock in and provide the album’s best moment.
With every track solidly around the three to four minute marks, it’s hard not to appreciate The Alice Rose’s radio rock attempts on All Haunt’s Sound. Austin has a lot of bands that are good on the stage and horrible in the studio or vice versa. The Alice Rose is, fortunately, one of the few who actually succeed on both fronts, but the dichotomy is jarring. This band should appeal to fans of The Shins, Spoon, and Coldplay among others; it should also excite fans of the aforementioned Cheap Trick, Squeeze, Sloan and legions of new power pop rock groups. Instead, the album documents a band that is trying so hard to create a perfect studio gem that it lost what makes its live sound so invigorating. The drums snap, the guitars jangle, and the vocals soar on songs like “I Know Your Ghost” and “Easter Anne,” but it just feels a little too flat, a little too friendly, a little too nice – the short and long of it is the rock and roll seems to be missing. In its place, the listener is left with a solid album of potential; a band that with a few more hooks or a few more risks would go from good to great; an album not quite fit for blasting in the car with the windows down yet not quite ripe for a lazy hammock day. It’s not every day that a band shows the potential, so there’s hope that The Alice Rose move the dial slightly one way or the other and figure out how to transfer the studio to the stage or the stage to the studio. Until then, it’s hard not to wonder what if.