Let’s get one thing clear: The Knolly Moles are not a bad band. They might not be a particularly developed band. They also might not be the most cohesive, technically sound group you’ve ever heard. But they are certainly not a bad band. Sure, they might not be the best band you’ve ever heard, but by no means does that make them a bad band.
Good or bad doesn’t really seem to matter to the Frederick five-piece outfit, though. All they really seem to care about is fun. Pure, unadulterated, kid-like fun. And that’s obvious on their latest EP, “Skeezetown Blvd,” a seven song set that features the band showing off every end of their combined talents in a way that winds up feeling a bit like amateur hour at a big city’s open mic night.
Wait. Amateur hour? I thought you said they weren’t a bad band? So what’s the problem, stupid music reviewer?
Well, the group’s most prominent issue actually has nothing to do with a lack of talent. In fact, it’s quite the contrary (with the exception of Greg Baughman’s cheesy drum performances, mind you). The problem The Knolly Moles face is the inability to use their talent to their advantage on a consistent basis. E.J. Atkins has a pleasant enough voice that lands somewhere between Sublime’s fallen leader Bradley Nowell (the obvious comparison) and Candlebox’s Kevin Martin (the not-so-obvious comparison). Joe Hatcher’s excellently tasteful horn playing adds a credible element to the group. And Matt John’s guitar work combines with Atkins to form melodic, full-sounding guitar parts that prove to be better than average.
But The Knolly Moles can’t figure out a way to make it all sound like anything more than a combination of multiple instruments that form jumbled songs aimed at trumpeting drinking too much and (surprise!) legalizing marijuana. Then again, what more would you expect from a band who willingly writes the following sentence in their bio with a straight face: “The Knolly Moles, an exciting five-piece, Skeezerock band, formed in October 2010 with an original mix of blues, ska, pop, and rock.”
What “Skeezetown Blvd” does is take a lot of those aforementioned, self-proclaimed elements and mesh them together for tracks that ultimately end up as a mixed bag of good and bad. “DUI” is a cool and collected offering that is only aided by cool and collected finger snaps. The song allows for some tuneful blues guitar riffage that lends the band a bit of musicianship. Hatcher’s horn playing works perfectly and by the time the end of the song rolls around, the upbeat dance-punk displayed truly does echo a second-rate Sublime sound in the most complimentary way. But then the generic “Shakes” begins playing and it’s hard not to laugh at how serious the band tries to be. It’s the closest The Knolly Moles come to a ballad and it’s enough to suggest they should never try it again.
“Fresh Out The Cell” is another disappointment that features an inexplicable harmonica part over a pop rock groove that is a sad escape from the up-tempo party that appears elsewhere. The song simply seems watered down. The move wouldn’t stand out so much if it wasn’t surrounded by the silliness (in a good way) of the EP’s title track or the “this-is-probably-a-lot-of-fun-to-see-live” nature of “GGD.” Those dudes just must have the crowd melting whenever they scream “Frederick City” somewhere on North Market Street on a Saturday night.
It all adds up to one f word, though it’s not the one The Knolly Moles are aiming for: frustrating. “Skeezetown Blvd” might be the sound of a band heading in the right direction, but it also highlights exactly how far they need to go to get to where they could be. If you want to do ska, buy a Madness record. If you want to do the blues, buy a Buddy Guy record. Just pick one, guys. Rock can go well with a lot of things, but it’s hard to fuse genres successfully when you combine them all at once.
The Knolly Moles are not a bad band. It’s just going to take a lot of time, effort and growth before anybody can call them a good band. Because when you have the amount of unused potential these guys can display, merely not being a bad band isn’t good enough.
** 2 STARS OUT OF 4 **