The Pacific Northwest is legendary in rock. It's where American garage rock started, or so the legend goes, as barely competent high schoolers banged on drums and whatever they could find, achieved regional popularity with singles occasionally collected into box sets like Nuggets, and started bands like The Sonics, The Wailers, and The Kingsmen. The area later birthed the twin lions of riot grrl punk and grunge rock, heavily distorted androgyny and loathing draped in flannel.
So, there aren't too many better places for a rock band to be from than Seattle. Enter my new favorite band: The Cops. Admittedly, their biggest influences seem to be British, right down to the "oh-oh-oh" backup vocals and percussive post-punk guitars -- and, yeah, the name -- but there ain't nothing un-American about the way they kick ass. Their first album, Get Good or Stay Bad, was by all accounts a pleasant platter of derivative, angular punk, a fairly orthodox matter without too much of a loftier vision. Their second, Free Electricity, released in November 2007, just might be a masterpiece.
It doesn't hurt that the first song is "It's Epidemic," one of the best singles of 2007, even if you never heard it. These guys know their way around a two-and-a-half minute song. No intro, it kicks straight into the a guitar riff that sounds like an air raid, straight into a furiously charging statement of purpose, like Pete Ubu on a 78. They slow down on the next song, "Light it Off," but they never stretch out past the beat, and never allow the listener more than a second's pause before tearing into the next tune. Guitar sounds are layered one above the other, an army of rhythm tracks playing precise bursts on and off-beat. Guitar lovers are stroked on nearly every moment of every song.
That pattern holds until the final song, "N. 99." The opposite of "It's Epidemic," "No. 99" begins with a bassline, enters its verse with just bass, vocals and cymbals, and adds guitars only on the chorus, a classic rock buildup. At 4:17, it's the longest song on the album, the one time they allow themselves to stretch into wider sonic spaces.
Franz Ferdinand followed a similar sonic pattern on their terrific first album, erring on the side of danceable funk basslines rather than Clash-esque guitar blare. But otherwise both are quite similar: treating guitars as members of the rhythm section rather than as solo or lead instruments; nearly monotone, often repetitive lyrics a part of the texture rather than a voice apart. The bass and drums march, swirl, with riffs one atop another, surrounding the voice in the middle, building to a climax that barely retreats as the next song begins. 40 minutes later or so, the album is over, and I could listen to it all over again.