Review Summary: A late-in-the-year album entry provides something 2010 was missing up to this point, from a band I least expected to deliver it.
Let me just say: I think 2010 has been a fantastic year for music thus far. But until I heard this album, I hadn't realized what it had been missing. I had yet to find my Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix...my Aim & Ignite. I'm happy to say that hellogoodbye's Would It Kill You? provided that missing element. Now, I'm not saying that this album sounds like those bands or those albums. What it does do is give you 11 golden little earworms, just waiting to burrow their way into your head for days.
Many people know hellogoodbye from their rather huge hit single "Here (In Your Arms)". I didn't care for the song, but I gave the album a listen at a friend's request. I strongly disliked it. It was too jokey, too emo, too much damn auto-tune. So I never really gave them a second thought. Recently I decided to see what they'd been up to since that album. I was surprised to see that in the 4 years since their debut full-length Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! came out, they had releases one album--a three song ep titled The Ukulele EP featuring, you guessed it, the ukulele on each track. This was pretty far removed from their earlier sound, and was enough for me to at least wonder how they'd follow it up.
I'm happy to say they've continued to build on the growth and maturation shown on that EP. Gone is the auto-tune, the reliance on the tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and (most of) the electronic flourishes that ruined the debut album. In their place are sunny melodies that mine the sounds of the 60's and 70's, with one foot planted firmly in power-pop. And yes, the ukulele, though it's not the focal point of each song. It's a gambit a band with similar origins, Panic at the Disco (sorry, we're talking about debuts...it's Panic! at the Disco) tried with Pretty. Odd., to mixed but admirable results. The big difference between the two is that, while I quite enjoyed P.O. as an album, certain moments felt forced. As though they were trying too hard to show how much their sound had changed in between albums. Everything on WIKY? feels perfectly natural.
The album starts with a 1-2-3 punch that should have even the most cynical bastard smiling from ear to ear. Opener "Finding Something To Do" opens with jangly guitars that give way to a buzzsaw chorus, complete with "oh, oh" backing vocals. "Getting Old" is a nice mid-tempo number with a horn section and some nice vocals by Forrest Kline. The third track and first single, "When We First Met", is the album highlight, with a chorus that begs to be sung along with. In fact, the only thing I could fault the album with is placing the standout track so early. It's not to say that the album falters afterward. Far from it. Every song is a highlight, but I'll just get to a few. "Betrayed By Bones" uses some of the electronic touches the debut utilized, but to much greater effect. "When We First Kissed" gives a little bit of an 80's feel, and provides a nice break from the rest of the album. "Coppertone" includes a nice little string section that gives the song a sunny feeling.
In closing, even if you've written this band off like I had, give this album a listen. It changed my mind. Had someone told me my first review for this site would be for a hellogoodbye album, I'd have laughed. Had they said it would be a glowing review, I'd have said they were crazy. Yet here I am. It says how good of an album it is that it got priority over the other 10 albums I've been meaning to get to. If you at all dig indie rock or power-pop or songs of the 60's and 70's, you owe it to yourself and the band to listen. The growth Kline has shown as a songwriter in the last four years is astounding. If you're a fan of their old work, still give it a shot. And while there's nothing groundbreaking here, they've gone from doing derivative emo-influenced dance music to doing catchy pop music. And there's nothing wrong with that.