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If you don’t know Imperial Teen, give them a listen because they’re one of the best power pop bands around. Psychic Friend, the side-project of Imperial Teen guitarist Will Schwartz and LA-based drummer Tripp Beam, doesn’t stray very far from Imperial Teen’s pop-formula, but what he does bring to the table is a very classic piano pop sound. His Facebook profile compares him to the great Carole King (in fact, he may have cheekily quoted her iconic piano line from “It’s Too Late”) and the legendary Todd Rundgren and, while he doesn’t quite live up to these comparisons, Schwartz certainly presents a strong case in the form of his debut album, My Rocks Are Dreams.
“We Do Not Belong” kicks off the album with a nice, hummable melody and the toe-tapping bounce of piano and drums. This song really sets the template for the rest of the album: Nice, piano-driven melodies mixed in with some string accompaniment. Not a new concept, by any means, but its pleasant enough. Schwartz’s pop-stylings are certainly entertaining and, while all the songs on his album travel at a steady rate, the best tunes are the ones when he kicks up the BPM. “Softer Side” glides along with breathy “oohs” and “ahhs” while Schwartz implores the listener to find the “the softer side of you, find the softer side of me” all the while working its way into a dreamy coda. “Never Burn, Never Bruise” bounces along with its ceaseless piano line while “Silent Show” ramps up the tension before exploding over a chorus.
Despite the many comparisons to the piano-driven pop of the 70s, Psychic Friend owes quite a bit of itself to some of the softer sounds of the late 60’s psychedelic and baroque-pop explosion with the obvious comparison being The Beatles’ late-era take on pop music. Schwartz’s managed to take these sensibilities and arrange them into a more modern sounding context. The real secret weapon of My Rocks Are Dreams is Tripp Beam’s drumming. His propulsive and dynamic drumming gives Schwartz’s tunes an extra, energetic kick. Look no further than “Shouldn’t Have Tried Again” or the fills in the aforementioned “We Do Not Belong” to hear how his driving, breakbeat-like drumming nicely accompanies Schwartz’s melodic vocals.
The clean production lends itself to the poppy melodies, but it ultimately makes the album sound a bit dull. Schwartz can write a great melody, no doubt about that, but track-by-track My Rocks Are Dreams doesn’t really have a whole lot going on. The songs are good, but nothing in particular stands out as anything better than good. The album also lacks diversity; the ten tracks mold into one long, moderately-tempoed pop song.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as My Rocks Are Dreams can be both charming and sensitive, but it is somewhat disappointing considering Schwartz’s work with Imperial Teen is a great balance between pop familiarity and diversity. “Telekinesis”, the album’s swan song, does attempt to change up the formula a bit and, while its nice to hear the fuzzy synths and rhythmic acoustic guitars get turned up in the mix, it still doesn’t redeem the album for being a lot of the same. Perhaps its a bit too harsh to criticize Schwartz’s for sticking with his strengths, especially when those strengths include a deft understanding of melody, but the repetitive nature of My Rocks Are Dreams is just too much to give the album any longevity.