The Wind-Up Merchants – Sprain Pkwy

Remember a few years ago when the big thing on the radio was known as “alternative rock?” Back when people were eating up everything from Sponge to Marcy Playground to Better Than Ezra? Well, listening to Sprain Pkwy gives the impression that the Wind-Up Merchants could have been a bigger band back then. They have that straightforward, energetic approach to rock and roll that could have at least gotten them an invitation to mingle with the cool kids, but these days such a task may prove to be a bit more difficult.
The lineup is pretty standard, featuring nothing more than guitars, bass, drums, and vocals, but with those elements the band manages to cover quite a bit of ground. Upon a melodic rock foundation, the band builds everything from punk rock on tracks like “Rick James” and “Your Drug,” to breezy and laid-back pop on those like “Better Fuel” and “To: Ben,” to spacier new-wave pop on others like “TV Life.” The frequent addition of acoustic guitars and quick strumming add a bit of a jam band feel to many of the tracks, especially with the more folk-poppy cuts like “Let it Fall” and “Tears on the Windshield,” like a combination of energetic electric indie rock and contemplative acoustic folk. The influences are a bit tough to nail down, because from the grungy and possibly Stone Temple Pilots-esque “I Won’t Go,” to the horn section of “Thinker,” which sounds like any generic indie rock band but with a Burt Bacharach fetish. The Wind-Up Merchants’ sound is familiar and done before, and yet not quite like anyone else.
After a couple of releases done entirely on their own, the Wind-Up Merchants landed with Spirit Of 1848 Records for Sprain Pkwy. The band certainly deserves to be on some sort of a label, because the sound is more than good enough. The basslines are smooth and relaxing, while the drumming is very tight, tossing in all sorts of clever fills, and the guitar work and vocals are equally accomplished. But getting off a tiny and unknown label and spreading the word outside of the hometown of Denver, Colorado may prove to be a difficult task. There is just nothing here to grab your attention and make you beg for more, making Sprain Pkwy one of those consistently tolerable but unremarkable albums you just kind of nod along to, allow to finish, and then politely push it to the side, which is what I intend to do right now.