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Album Review: The Retinas S/T

Pennsylvania’s The Retinas are an emerging trio from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Over the course of their career, the band has gained traction for their cathartic lyrical approach, as well as for their closely channeling the alternative boom of the 90s and garage rock revival of the 2000s. Following the success of two initial EPs – Andy and Yellow Rocket – last year, they have vastly expanded their musical scope with the recent release of their eponymous debut album.

The album begins on “Afterthought,” a bouncy, instantly melodic rocker structured by Pumpkins-esque chord sequences and smoky, reverb-tinged vocals. I like how the bass and drums proceed to complement the guitar melodies as the song progresses, with each phase subtly increasing in clarity. That sense of subtlety is especially accounted for in the song’s breakdown, where dry, subdued snaps aptly blend into the percussive residue. Throughout the song, there’s this gradually implied thematic notion of being shoved away into a bleak lonely corner, which the instrumental involvement captures well. On the jangle pop-inspired track to follow, “Problem with the World,” there’s a continued sense of alienation, wherein one’s otherwise bright and opportunistic striving for growth is constantly marred by unnecessary societal hurdles. After an accentuating solo, there’s deeper resonance in the song’s second half once it subsides to a calmer variation of the main chord sequence. From “Big Fish” to “Visual Snow,” I noted the stylistic representation of how these hurdles affect the subject of the song, from the initial dwelling on the extent of the struggle to the headway, and subsequent gaining of momentum. The first side is capped by “Fix That Up,” a more triumphant contrast. At the same time, the song emits two forms of a barebones feel, the first punctuated by airy, gliding synths, and the other by a blistering, bash-it-out style percussion. Eventually, all of the band’s signature involvement comes together to produce a competently-blended wall of sound, combined with a greater sense of command.

On the flipside is the tongue-in-cheek “Vote for Pedro,” which provides the album’s rightful dose of comic relief. Besides the titular reference to a plot aspect of cult film Napoleon Dynamite, the song’s increasingly bizarre, arbitrary lyrical direction and “loud-quiet-loud” dynamics are a decent expansion of its retro allusions. “Step Up Kid” plays up that aspect further, bringing to mind simplistic and almost childlike, yet vivid images of space. I appreciate how the song’s melodic components shift between floating and detached to colorful and compacted, while the background nuances sway to the foreground and back in a similar manner. The vibe then becomes more straightforward in the form of “Gotta Get Back,” a punkish, intense deviation sounding like it came straight from 90s underground radio. The succeeding track, “Favorite Friend” shares a similar tie-in quality once again, albeit representing a complementarily hazy, narcotic lull in the experience. By the final track, “Family Ties,” the vibe seems to have reached a place of peace, as the instrumentation sets the scene of a bustling, yet serene dawn. With that, the transition to heaviness takes on a more subdued that offsets the reversion to blistering percussion, allowing for its atmospheric, textural elements to find balance within the track.

Overall, The Retinas’ self-titled debut is a thorough indication of their penchant for back-to-basics rock n’ roll. Each song contains an ample amount of stylistic rawness and thematic poignance, which makes the ideal backdrop for a journey of self-discovery, growth, and ultimate contentment. I’m already looking forward to how the band will expand their sonic and lyrical horizons in a future full-length setting.

The Retinas:

Bandcamp|Instagram|YouTube

Compositions
Breaking Ground
Engagement
Lyrical Voice
Production

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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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