Everyone’s got an ideal sound in their head for what they want their band to sound like, whether that band is just starting out playing its first shows in small-town clubs or if it is still swirling around as a figment of your daydreams. You want a band that has the spitfire soul of Otis Redding with a little new country twang or something that sounds like Frank Zappa on a tropical vacation. It’s all fantasies and ideas tied together to establish a north star to follow.
When you spin the new album “The Game” by Richmond, Virginia’s The Congress, you get the sense band members Chris Speasmaker, Scott Lane, Jonathan Meadows and Mark Levy (recently replaced by Raphael Katchinoff) played that same game with themselves when they were recording it. The album is sprawled out tones of wayfaring country, subtle psychedelia, troubadour rock and roll, timeless pop among others that together form a complex sound that is impossible to pigeonhole.
Who The Congress pulled from can be weeded out in interviews and soundbites over the next couple months of press for the album. Maybe they’ll say that the chugging sunniness of “Ain’t It Easy” was written after a three-day bender of Jackson Browne records in the Southwest or that the inspiration for the record throwing darts at their favorite AOR records of the 1970s and seeing what stuck. But you don’t really need to know those things, you can hear these and feel them as the album turns; you know the players have been soaking up music since they were toddlers and this is as much an homage to the music in their lives as it is a statement of who they are as a band.
What’s striking on “The Game” is how natural and effortless the sound feels tied together. Usually when a band is touching on so many sounds it feels a little stitched together, hit or miss, but that is not the case with The Congress. Its corners are rounded and the edges are polished. The spry “New Amsterdam” is a flirty, escapist anthem in the vein of road trip legends such as The Eagles, with romantic, highway musings like, “Got the interstate running through my veins, and this song I wrote about you.” But the song’s off-kilter melody and the rolling composition of the middle jam feels like Steely Dan was on the band’s mind when the song came to fruition. Elsewhere on the album, “The Poison and the Antidote” features David Gilmour-like solos within a hazy, piano-driven rock ballad that could soundtrack someone to find themselves at the bottom of a bottle.
When The Congress isn’t catching your ear for playing with sounds in a little different manner, it is catching it for playing tunes that are rock solid in feel and composition. The previously mentioned “Ain’t It Easy” is little nugget of sonic gold awash in golden harmonies and the tender, country rocker “Home Again” is as warm and comfortable as the song’s sentiment. And when you combine the honky-tonk verses of “This Ain’t Living” with the Latin-infused instrumental codas that separate them, you get a blast of the spicy blend of music that blows in off the Gulf of Mexico. If you can’t do something good, do something different and vice versa. The Congress can do both really well.
Even with the myriad of tantalizing sounds swirling around “The Game,” The Congress is a singular, unique musical entity that lacks any comparable counterpart. While you can compare them to other bands, it’s hard to really compare bands to them. To find a band with such a defined sound at this early stage of its life bodes well for future offerings. “The Game” will undoubtedly influence many of the ears it touches.
- The Congress
Release: Sept. 9, 2016
Label: American Paradox