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Telethon - Hard Pop (Album Review)

Tuesday, 25 June 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Condensing Telethon’s outlook into a snappy phrase is a difficult task. The Milwaukee band play scruffy punk songs with due reverence to grand midwest traditions, but throughout their five or so years together they’ve also spent a lot of time colouring outside the lines. 

To wit: their last full length, ‘The Grand Spontanean’, was a rock opera that put the emphasis on length by running to 30 songs, and its follow up was an EP solely comprising character studies set to fizzing power-pop. Now we have ‘Hard Pop’, an LP that keeps things brief without dispensing with Telethon’s taste for big ideas.

The record’s title is intended as that band-defining catch-all, and it’s pretty effective. Contained within are 10 songs that lean into Telethon’s zippy melodies and aura of sad sack heartache, with precisely zero attention paid to what’s cool right now.

‘Hard Pop’ represents a world of ska interludes and Rush-style radio-rock shredding, wrapped in vocalist Kevin Tully’s bookish nerdisms.

There is something truly liberating about the verve with which Telethon attack their obnoxious cocktail of guitar heroics, Springsteen glockenspiel and medium city ennui. “Apartment shopping online for about the eight or ninth time, checkboxing bathrooms and avoiding neighborhoods,” Tully sings at one point on How Long Do I Let it Go For?, somehow making one of life’s truly despicable tasks sound like something you could happily yell about at a basement show.

The greater focus brought about by shedding 20 songs from the tracklist has also worked in the band’s favour. ‘Hard Pop’ is, for all its flights of fancy and rich instrumentation, a short, sharp jolt of high calibre songwriting.

As well as permitting them to carry off a mashed together song title (Youdon'tinspiremelikeyouusedto) that feels like a pointed nod to Minneapolis punk masters Dillinger Four, its consistent quality complements its constituent parts, rather than stranding a couple of highlights among lesser fare.

This sense of poise, for example, facilitates the deft movement between the amped up quasi-Lemonheads strut of Chimney Rock (which is headlined by a guest spot from Sonder Bombs’ Willow Hawks) and the lilting chamber pop of House of the Future without sacrificing any mid-album momentum. 

In moments like this there is a sense that this record stands as Telethon’s first real shot at an all killer, no filler batch of hits. To achieve that lofty goal they have balanced patience and attention to detail with a level of giddy excitability, not to mention some expert pacing. It’s not that big considering past exploits, but ‘Hard Pop’ is very clever.

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