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The best rock ’n’ roll has a certain swagger to it; a larger-than-life, cooler-than-you vibe, if you will. It has attitude. It has guts. It talks the talk and walks the walk, backing up all that attitude with fantastic musicianship. D.C. trio Wanted Man epitomizes this archetype, and its self-titled first album is an electric, exciting, and damned entertaining rock ’n’ roll album.
On one hand, it seems like it would be easy to characterize Wanted Man as blues-tinged rock. But that would be an oversimplification—the band introduces elements of blues, punk, surf rock, and rockabilly across the album. It’s easy to write a handful of songs that touch on various rock genres, but another thing entirely to make that group work together as an album.
Album opener “Slow and Steady” showcases the superbly tight rhythm section of drummer Rick Irby and bassist John Scoops, whose synchronicity anchors each track. Irby attacks his snare, setting a frenetic pace, while Scoops’ understated presence lays the foundation for Kenny Pirog’s heavily distorted vocals and guitar to come tearing through. It’s a minute-long punk thrasher that sets up the album’s full-throttle second track “You’ve Got it All,” along with the rest of the album.
However, Wanted Man is hardly confined to a single pace, and the band slows things down here and there. The first time it happens, on the album’s third track “Desiree,” it feels a little out of place: Irby’s drums and Scoops’ bass become more subtle, while Pirog’s vocals sound like they could feel at home alongside The Beach Boys. But the composition of the song does occasionally lend itself to rocking out, with a chorus that’ll have you singing along in a heartbeat. And then there’s Pirog’s guitar work––especially the soulful solo halfway through the song––reminding listeners that, while this might be a slower, sweeter song, it’s still rockin’.
These tempo shifts serve a dual purpose, creating a defined sense of movement across the album and allowing Wanted Man opportunities to highlight its various influences. The mid-paced “Pardon Me if I Stare” is perhaps the bluesiest song on the album, building its foundation on traditional blues riffs until it explodes with a wailing guitar solo. Two tracks later, when things pick back up with “Gun to my Head,” Pirog’s experiences with the D.C. punk scene come to the forefront.
Generic exploration, coupled with moderate tempo changes, do a lot to inject variety into an album that could otherwise be repetitive. That’s not to say all of the songs sound the same––they absolutely don’t––but the fact that many of them are so short makes it difficult for a track to take on its own life and stand on its own. Tracks like “It’s Alright to Cry,” “Pardon Me if I Stare,” and “Fake a Prayer” stand apart because they’re able to change over time, shifting dynamics and building on themselves.
And time is of the essence for Wanted Man: Part of the reason the album works so well is that only two of 11 tracks run longer than four minutes, with most clocking in between two and three minutes. These are hardly overwrought prog-inspired compositions––they present what they have to offer and then move on. Get in, get out, but always leave the listener begging for more.
Wanted Man plays a record release show tonight at 7: 30 p.m. at Black Cat with Unconscious Disturbance and Baby Bry Bry. 1811 14th St. NW. $10.