The Complete Strategist – We Care

With the 80s post-punk and new-wave revival in full force over the last few years, it’s a joy to discover a new band that brings back fond memories of the “me decade” with original, surreal compositions that extend beyond traditional 80s motifs. Granted, We Care, by The Complete Strategist, does contain one song with an unmistakable nod to The Police that may lead Sting and company to contact their attorneys, but they’ve already made their millions, and The Complete Strategist is just starting out. This eastern Pennsylvania quartet has recorded an album of instantly catchy, clever, indispensable power-pop with anglophile sensibilities and vocal harmonies of a quality rarely heard in contemporary indie pop.

We Care opens with the frenetically paced “Pyrosis,” shifting from a faded folk serenade to speedy, straight-on rock, right before lead singer/songwriter Billy Kilgannon makes stream-of-consciousness declarations about caps, gowns, and stories from the road. His voice recalls Andy Partridge, and the drastic changes of tempo in “Pyrosis” over just two minutes are as experimental as XTC’s riskier moments.

“Patient with the Swiss Army” is a slow, reflective track with obscure lyrics whose most striking element is the gorgeous vocal duet of Kilgannon and Ryan O’Donnell on the catchy chorus: “Here’s where you wanna go / Here’s where you’ve been / Take it or leave it now / Trade and I win / Stronger now / ‘Cause I ripped off this kid.” The track’s final minute of electronic loops, fleshed guitar chords, and emphatic drumming are a pleasant surprise. The bouncing beats are in a Saint Etienne vein and add the right sweetness to the song.

In the middle of We Care, The Complete Strategist offers a trio of driving power-pop masterpieces that can teach many hopeful rock ‘n rollers how to compose memorable, creative songs. The combination of Kilgannon’s paused singing and O’Donnell’s tense guitar playing in “Get Outta’ Town!” brings back fond memories of “Your Love,” The Outfield’s 20-year-old smash single. Yet, the lyrics of “Get Outta’ Town!” aren’t limited to love. Consider the name checks and exploratory lyrics: “I miss Ash’s rock star poses / Radios or Viking Moses on the farm / The flats where Thoreau’s in charge / Get outta’ town, get a life, get along / You’ll find it strange when you drive yourself home / I’ll be just fine – no one knows, no one sees / What seems like normal but strange and unique.”

The blasting early 80s power-pop rush of “Get Outta’ Town” is followed by the obscure tale of “Ro Jo (Run Once Jump On).” This unconventional track possesses an instrumental intro and an exit that immediately point to The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and a chorus with heavenly harmonies. The Complete Strategist’s third major success on We Care is “Anyone Stupid Enough,” in which Kilgannon fully exposes a cynical bite: “Anyone stupid enough / They don’t know I am not impressed / Anyone stupid enough / I can just humor them / They won’t understand.”

The album’s final two tracks, “Billy Boy is Sentimental” and “The Knowledge,” demonstrate some of the most interesting chord progressions on We Care. “The Knowledge” even finds the band in a kind of Cranberries “Zombie” mode, with sudden, dramatic shifts in intensity and vocal pleas. With rich voices exploring various genres alongside highly skilled playing – the band sounds like seasoned session musicians and there is never a bland moment – and surreal lyrics that often bewilder, We Care is an unqualified success with a magnetic appeal.