On its first album So Long, Soggy Dog, Cleveland, Ohio’s the Sidekicks bore a mark reminiscent of the Lawrence Arms and Against Me!. It was pop-punk with a slight folk lean, and it was just rough enough to draw in fans of Hot Water Music as well. Soggy Dog was a solid – yet slightly derivative – debut, but as time went on the band’s influences, and its sound, diversified.
On 2009’s Weight of Air, the Sidekicks embraced the folk influence that was hinted at on Soggy Dog – as well as on the stunning Sam 7-inch – while simultaneously moving in a power pop direction. Vocalist/guitarist Steve Ciolek dropped the gruff vocals, allowing his off-kilter approach to help define the band’s new sound.
It’s third full-length Awkward Breeds takes the influences seen on Weight of Air and pushes them even further. Where Weight of Air could still be considered a punk record because of songs such as “Almost the Same” and “Like the Tides,” Awkward Breeds puts its best indie-rock foot forward and never looks back.
Awkward Breeds opens with “DMT” and “Grace,” two tracks that pick up logically where the group’s split 7-inch with Tigers Jaw left off. The songs are high-energy, but more subdued than anything on Soggy Dog. Yet it still retains an energetic aura, making it ambitious, forward-thinking power pop.
The Tigers Jaw split saw the Sidekicks cover Elvis Costello’s “(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” and it makes sense as the Sidekicks have quickly become punk rock’s answer to Mr. Costello. There are sweet melodies, infectious hooks, and just enough of a snarl to maintain edginess. Awkward Breeds is as exhilarating as anything else in the Sidekicks canon, only with a lighter, poppier touch.
Ciolek’s added confidence in his voice allows for tracks such as “Grace” to truly pop, and on “1940’s Fighter Jet” his talent is on full display. The song spends most of its time showcasing Ciolek’s distinct vocals with only light guitar accompaniment. When he sings, “Standing in line for bread and wine/ They told you just how to receive it/ Don’t you see it?” it brings the song into a new realm that is completely invigorating.
The Sidekicks have never released an album this defined. While its past work was always enjoyable, Awkward Breeds never missteps. Even on “The Whale and Jonah” – the group’s longest and most ambitious song to date – there is not a piece that doesn’t work. The guitars bounce off one another allowing for smooth vocal melodies to be placed atop, and even though the rhythm section has slowed its tempos, it still shows all the enthusiasm it had previously.
Awkward Breeds is, by far, the Sidekicks best album to date – and it is a strong contender for one of the year’s best. It’s the album that the Sidekicks have been working toward for years, and it could finally bring it the recognition outside of the punk scene it so rightfully deserves.
The Sidekicks – Awkward Breeds tracklist:
- “Incandescent Days”
- “1940’s Fighter Jet”
- “Diamond Eyes”
- “The Whale and Jonah”
- “The 9th Piece”
- “Baby, Baby”