The Academy – S/T

If it were 1984, these guys would be big stars. I don’t think I have listened to anything so 80s rock since the 80s ended!

The Academy is another Bloomington, IN band. How do I keep reviewing Indiana bands? Well, this one came on recommendation from Brando’s Derek Richey – BUT, don’t be fooled by the source: The Academy is nothing like any of the Bloomington-based acts I have been privy to over the last couple years (except for the fact that they know how to write a good pop song).

Bloomington has showcased some really fantastic music this year. June Panic’s latest release from Secretly Canadian (another Bloomington based label) is powerful and cerebral, and Brando’s Peacocks on Linen from Smokeylung Recordings is nearly perfect indie-rock-pop with an evil, sublime twist. The Academy hits us with raw, unadultrated 80s pop that Men at Work and The Cars would be proud of. Now, how do all these pieces of the puzzle come together? How do bands and musicians from such different musical pastures come to graze together in friendship? Who knows…I think the answer may lie in proximity.

Still, the Academy are a gleeful bunch and start us off with a winding but flowing song called “Let her fall.” It is all 80s goodness here: cheesy keyboards, the over-use of 808-like drum machines – but somehow it works. Somehow, you don’t mind. The song is well-written and the singing is fun and pillowy (is that word?).

“Did it” and “Only live Once” also fit the bill of the 80s pop-style rock. On some of these tunes, the lyrics are just soaked with overt cheesiness. The words “girl” and references to puppy-love relationships that could fall apart at the slightest flirtation with others is splashed all over these songs. And you can’t take any of these songs too seriously: they just aren’t meant to be taken so (I hope).

As I’ve mentioned above, there are some great pop moments on this CD in the 80s style. BUT, there are moments when things go overboard and you have to say “nah, I don’t think so.” While “Second in Command,” starts with a distortion-laden guitar (wow!), it quickly falls into a wishy-washy, boy-girl, sing-along with some of the worst sounding 808-ish drum rolls recorded by man. Here, the corny-meter is on “high,” and minus a producer with the power to reign things in, this song just crumbles into ultra-cheese.

In fact, no offense to the producer, but this album could do with a makeover and a more “real” sounding approach. Of course, then it wouldn’t remind us of the 80s, which, I believe, is the whole point of the album, I think.

I will offer up this challenge to “The Academy” for their next effort.
1) Try a different producer and go for a more “real” sound (see Brando and June Panic’s producers. Both are good choices and are local, I gather). Now, I am not saying you should totally change your style or music, just change how it is put on tape.
2) Drop the over-use of the 808/electronica…Hey I know it is fashionable, but hell, you can play those songs yourself.
3) Keep writing great pop songs, just try something totally different for the next album.

So, thus, we get a lot of well-written songs that are somewhat over-glossed by mediocre production and mixing (just like the 80s!) but have a strange abundance of potential (really, these songs are well-structured and have great roots). With a better ear at the mixing board, and less reliance on looping (I swear I hear guitars that are exact duplications of the riffs and strums before it) this band might have a lot to offer. There are moments when you just understand what is trying to be accomplished and the songs just come together in a robust 80s groove. Can music coming from Indiana really be this interesting? Apparently so.

So, this is a good start for this band. Whoever writes the songs (A.Fry?), has a great ear, but the production needs to be different for future albums. I mean, how many 80s flashbacks can one band do, right? Even if they do it better than anyone else. If you’re a fan of 80s rock, this album is FOR YOU! Otherwise, stick around for what the future may bring. Anyone else from Indiana want to send me a CD (I kid here)? Seems they all have something unique to offer.