Power Chords is Mike Krol’s first proper album in four years, and much has been done in that time to sharpen his songwriting chops. Returning full force with eleven tracks via Merge Records, we find Krol both refining his own voice and integrating garage and punk influences more cleverly into the mix. The result is an album that surprises with sonic curve balls while also maintaining a familiar fast ball punch, a mix that hits just the right unusual notes within its poppy strike zone to keep things fresh and unpredictable.
Featuring the signature, lo-fi recording and blown-out vocals of the genre, Power Chords is rich with snotty melody and buzzing guitar. Sounding something like a mash-up of Jay Reatard, the Marked Men, and the Strokes, Mike Krol hits all the right notes to satisfy discriminating garage-punk aficionados. Yet there’s a certain secret sauce to Mike Krol’s punky recipe, a depth that most in the genre miss or are unable to attain. Within this well-trod style, Krol instills an inventiveness behind the relatively straightforward song structures and chord progressions.
The album kicks off with the song “Power Chords,” a mid-tempo, somewhat Weezer-esque rocker, a confident opener that makes clear Krol is more atop his game than ever. “An Ambulance” serves as a catchy album highlight with a chorus that in a just universe would be featured on all major radio stations. “Little Drama” is Krol at his more aggressive, with an anger and urgency that sticks out among Power Chords’ more pop-oriented tracks.
“Arrow In My Heart” slows down the festivities, sounding a bit like a Rentals song that time forgot. There are moments where perhaps Krols’ influences are a little too naked upon his sleeve—“Nothing To Yell About” is a good song of its own merit, but at times, Krol sounds so like Jeff Burke as to be uncanny. And while the purposefully rough-around-the-edges recording quality serves so often as a hallmark for this brand of rock n’ roll, the overly distorted vocals do potentially get a bit grating for the listener’s pummeled eardrums. Overall, however, the songs are varied and fresh enough to keep the listener’s attention through its quick and energetic run time, all of it cohering with sharp style and poppy vitality.
Mike Krol kicks his game up a notch with Power Chords, crafting an album that ticks off a series of satisfying boxes while delivering fresh hooks in an off-kilter package. And when all is said and done for 2019, it will undoubtedly serve as one of the best garage-punk albums of the year.