There was once a time when I’d buy just about anything that came out on Drive Thru Records, based solely on the label’s reputation for putting out nothing but great pop punk albums. After losing some of their best (biggest) bands to major label Geffen Records (Something Corporate, Midtown, The Starting Line, New Found Glory) and a breakup (The Movielife), Drive Thru was left with the challenge of essentially rebuilding their label. With a depleted roster, Drive Thru signed a flurry of bands that, let’s just say, weren’t quite up to the Drive Thru standard of previous years (though, of course, many of these bands are now about to put out their first full lengths, so we may be delightfully surprised), in addition to starting a sister label, Rushmore Records. Thus far, Rushmore Records’ releases haven’t really done much to change the perception that Drive Thru is still under renovation—save one. Houston Calls’ debut full length, A Collection of Short Stories, is a ridiculously catchy, remarkably well written pop punk album that has restored both my and Jason Tate’s faith in Rushmore/Drive Thru Records. If albums like A Collection of Short Stories are what we can expect from the new Rushmore/Drive Thru, then Drive Thru is back, as good as ever.
Houston Calls is undeniably a pop punk band—crunchy, catchy, and energetic, they remind me of an older Midtown (though poppier) with strong hints of Motion City Soundtrack and Hello Goodbye, especially with their incorporation of synths and pianos. Thick, yet crisp, guitars and drums perfectly compliment the dynamic, powerful vocals, harmonies are plentiful, and the sugary melodies are sure to please any fan of power-pop. While no new ground is being broken with this release, these guys play pop punk about as well as it can be played, and the album should be enjoyed for what it is: a collection of fun, fast paced, pop rock songs.
The album definitely starts out on the right foot with the warm, heavily-guitar layered intro of “Sunrise Goodbyes,” a high tempo track that features fantastic harmonies and a very Motion City Soundtrack-esque synth line in an absurdly catchy chorus. The second track, “Exit Emergency,” is the song that most people probably associate with Houston Calls, simply by virtue of the many Drive Thru samplers it has been featured on. As expected, it’s pretty much the same song, but sounds better, courtesy of the excellent production by Ed Rose. For those who haven’t heard the song before, it is pure dance-pop bliss (if you’re into that sort of thing, anyways). While the chorus is almost obnoxious, it’s impossible not to sing along: “So I’ll kill the doubt / I’ll put the fire out / Extinguish everything / Might even forget your name.” The next song, “Bob and Bonnie,” features a nice, delicate, piano-based intro, but the keys are quickly relegated to the background as the song punches in with stabbing guitars and emphatic vocals. As you might have guessed, the chorus in the song is really catchy—I’m just going to stop pointing out how catchy this CD is, otherwise that’s all this review will consist of. The Tokyo Rose sounding “Elephant and Castle” features a recurring synth line through the verses and a pounding pre-chorus, though I must say the chorus didn’t grab me like the others did. The fifth track, “Amtrak is for Lovers,” tones things down a just bit, beginning with a reverbed piano and a gentle voice in a minor key, and though the song begins mellow, only the verses remain that way, giving way to energetic choruses. To be totally honest, most of the rest of the album is very much like the first half (which, obviously, is a slight drawback of the album), so there’s not much point in describing it with great detail. While I won’t describe the songs, here are the other tracks I found to be most enjoyable: “A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of Spite,” “A Line in the Sand,” and the closer, “The Better Part of Valor.”
The production on the album is really good: as a whole, the CD sounds thick and full, the guitars are crunchy and clear, the bass fills out its frequencies well, and the drums are deep and rich (though it might be nice to maybe hear them a bit brighter). I’m not really complaining though—everything sounds great.
Houston Calls’ A Collection of Short Stories is a staggering debut, bound to help Rushmore/Drive Thru get back on the right track. As previously mentioned, the album as a whole is fairly homogenous, which is one of its few shortcomings, but virtually every song is solid, so it’s not that the music is bad by any means, it’s just a little too similar at times. If you’re looking for an energetic, refined, pop punk album full of hooks and memorable melodies, A Collection of Short Stories is the album you’ve been waiting for.