Being labeled a “great bar band” is a double-edged sword. It’s a music critic’s way of praising a band and marginalizing them at the same time. The subtext of this over-used phrase is, “this band plays good, loud, infectious rock that will go down well with your PBR on a Saturday night in a small club, but don’t expect them to rise to popularity or artistic heights of Radiohead or Wilco or R.E.M. or any other band that can sell out stadiums and two-tiered auditoriums at $40 a ticket (+ handling fees).”
Nowadays just playing good rock music isn’t enough to get a band noticed. Critics are always looking for the next big thing… the next Strokes… the new White Stripes… something different… something challenging… something else. So a band had better get to reinventing the wheel if they want to become critical darlings.
I’m fairly sure that, after ten years of doing this, Grand Champeen has got to be getting tired of all the Soul Asylum/Superchunk/Wilco comparisons that they’ve been subjected to. Dial T For This, Grand Champeen’s fourth album, finally shows the band making strides to develop their own personality while still rubbing shoulders with the aforementioned influences.
The three years since The One That Brought You have found the Champs buckling down on their musicianship, incorporating piano, horns, and strings into the mix. They seem to understand that additional instruments don’t necessarily mean proficiency is afoot. To address the cynicism that Pro Tools has created, the liner notes make a point to declare that the music was “performed by someone in the band on an actual instrument, not a computer.” Honorable for sure, but it’s a little disheartening that we live in an age where public notices are needed to make believers out of the rock and roll faithful. I don’t remember my copy of No Pocky For Kitty or Hang Time coming with those declarations.