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CD REVIEW: Backseat Driver/No Outlet - Split EP
By Chip Withrow - 05/26/2007 - 01:04 PM EDT

Artist: Band: Backseat Driver/No Outlet
Album: Split EP
Label: Attic Records
Genre: Alt Pop/Rock
Best Songs: Salt Pyramids (Backseat Driver), Motion (No Outlet)
CD Review: This Split EP idea is a good one – two bands, five songs each, on the same CD. Backseat Driver and No Outlet have a common thread – timeless, somewhat trippy pop rock with a postmodern twist.

Backseat Driver comes first, and the lead-off track “The Sexy Martini Party” is a peculiarly enchanting stew: a psychedelic/soul vibe but with grungy guitars playing the pretty melody, and harmonized vocals singing downright weird lyrics ( “ … she drove their Honda off a bridge” with a wistful “oooh” in the background).

Again with the unusual, highly evocative lyrics ( “… ain’t no Sahara but they got some pyramids”) on “Salt Pyramids.” I like this one even better than the first: sort of a surreal folk tune highlighted by a melancholy harmonica solo, then morphing into punchy power-pop guitar at the very end.

“Chief Justice” reminds me of the good electrified folk-rock I listened to back in the late ‘80s: skillfully blended guitars, insistent drums, but this time with an urgent, almost-falsetto vocal.

The last two Backseat Driver songs, “Lulamae” and “On Death,” are acoustic and dramatically different from the first three. "Lulamae" is a soft guitar/banjo number accented by chiming bell sounds. "On Death" is old-timey in a Tom Waits way (but with a falsetto instead of a growl), with a cool muted trumpet. If these two songs had been sequenced in between the first three, the EP would have had a really appealing flow.

The first two No Outlet tracks remind me of this alt pop rocker named Matthew Sweet (is he still around?) I used to listen to a lot in the mid-‘90s. “Don’t Put Me Away” with soaring vocals and fuzzily pretty guitars playing atypical chord changes, gets the No Outlet half of the disc going. Then comes “Motion,” one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in a while. It’s big, bold, poppy fun, demanding to be listened to over and over.

The softer “Without You” and “Cherry Red” don’t have the immediate stick-in-your-head effect of the first two numbers, but they are both sophisticated and pretty. No Outlet became all the more impressive to me when I realized, after “Without You,” that the band gets its orchestral sound out of just guitars, bass, and drums. “Cherry Red” is loping, smoothly soulful, almost jazzy

The last track, “The Hardest Time,” is the fruition of all that is good about the first four songs. It has great guitar hooks and nicely blended vocal harmonies, all over uniquely punchy Bo Diddley drums. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the lyrics tug on my emotions, too.

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