Give up? Enders is the leader of a band called The Early November (and he’s also the man behind I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody’s Business, but if you are just now finding out who this guy is, chances are you couldn’t care less about his solo project). You might know them if you ever wandered your way into a Warped Tour, fancied yourself a Fall Out Boy fan or look like someone who owns stock in Abercrombie & Fitch. They’re rock-y. They’re pop-y. And most importantly, they are a word most people cringe at: emo-y.
Though in the case of local outfit Car Party, Enders is a whole lot more than a mere lead singer and guitar player in a different moderately well-known band. In fact, he’s their one-way ticket into a scene littered with basement shows, tight jeans, four-act tours, misplaced angst and multiple spots on a “Gossip Girl” soundtrack. Or, in other words, he’s the producer behind the quartet’s “High & Low Places,” a four-song EP as polished as it is sugary and as clich? as it is refreshing.
The group is at their best here when they embrace those sugary clich?s. “Forever Family,” for instance, is the love child of Acceptance and Armor For Sleep who happens to spend the majority of its time with Taking Back Sunday. The spotless engineering work accentuates drummer Taylor Hughes’ powerful groove, and her scatting hit-hat pattern toward the end of verse two is a subtlety that other similar outfits have made a calling card out of (here’s looking at you, Motion City Soundtrack). And just before you think it couldn’t get anymore 2006 Fuse Television-like, group vocals kick in to set the final chorus ablaze.
Enders lends more than his production skills on the EP’s first track, “Please Me,” providing a cameo that is surprisingly hard to pick out. The hooky-ist of the bunch, the track bubbles enough to make you think a memorable payoff is in the song’s future, but much like The Early November’s inability to remain relevant (admit it — you had no idea they recently reunited for a new record and tour), the end result never quite produces that one moment you are waiting for.
“Dear Son” is much of the same, though the expectation morphs into the form of repetitive pop vocal refrains, in the style of Chicago rockers Spitalfield. Michael Natzke’s voice remains powerful enough to keep your attention, yet it still lacks the sensibility that allowed the Taking Back Sundays and Fall Out Boys of the world to sell hundreds of thousands of records. “These days are over,” he sings in a manner that alludes to some fun alliteration that may be on its way, before offering a mere “Over you being the soul I look to” and abandoning the line completely. It’s like going to a party, realizing how great the night could be, and then turning the corner to find your date making out with someone else: the excitement for what might lie ahead fades fast.
It all ends with “Anniversary,” the cheesiest and most predictable of the bunch. One thing such bands as this never seem to learn — no matter the amount of record sales or success they could ever achieve — is that a low-energy approach never turns out well for a group that makes a living off aggressive-sounding pop rock (cough, Paramore, cough). The same rule applies here as Natzke faux-croons “Do you still wear your ring / Well I do / Well I do” mere seconds into the track, coming off as more Disney Channel than “Twilight.” It makes the band look foolish and it negates at least a little of the promise the other three songs here suggest.
Promise. Car Party’s “High & Low Places” oozes more promise than a Sunday afternoon church service. At this point, it’s even a bit of a throwback to the days when bands like this still mattered and Warped Tour was more likely to play host to eyes smothered in eyeliner than heads topped with mohawks. And for that, these guys should be applauded. Sure, My Chemical Romance doesn’t matter anymore, and yeah, Good Charlotte is way more known as the band with the one dude who married Nicole Richie now than it is as The Band Who Wrote “Little Things.”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for this type of music anymore. And it certainly doesn’t mean that a band can’t make a fairly good living off writing these types of songs. What sets Car Party apart from most other, similar local acts is their uncanny ability to stick to the basics and allow the songs to speak for themselves. Well, that and a guy a named Ace Enders. But even so, it’s hard to imagine other local groups cleaning up this well when given the opportunity to play with the big boys for a few minutes at the end of the game. “High & Low Places” proves it was worth putting Car Party on the team to begin with.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***