by Nathan Springer
If you’re into any of the slew of 90’s influenced bands popping up on the East Coast right now, chances are at least one of your hometown heroes has played with Cross Country at some point. These four precocious ex-college kids have quickly built an audience by religiously gigging with touring bands passing through the Midwest, reaching out to musicians and offering their hometown of Oxford, Ohio as an unexpected show opportunity. In November of last year the group released Breakfast, a scrappily-recorded EP of 4 power pop gems. Now Cross Country returns with TRIALS, released in September by Nashville imprint Infinity Cat. This album is a considerable step up for the band, both in terms of song-craft and instrumental prowess.
A good barometer for the growth of the band is “Four Eyes”, a track that was originally released on Breakfast and reappears as the penultimate song on TRIALS. The new version is played roughly 40 BPMs faster (I checked because I have time to do things like that), but almost as striking is the increased confidence with which the band tackles their arrangements. The vocals are more assured and the performance is tighter in general. Cross Country definitely borrow from the wave of 90’s nostalgia that is making the rounds in DIY circles right now (jangly guitars, deadpan vocals, poppy arrangements), but they do so in a way that feels exciting and never derivative. Not many bands of this ilk have the chemistry displayed by guitarists Thom Meyer and Ezra Saunier. Their interplay is one of the most enjoyable parts about the band; they’re constantly trading off playing catchy licks and chord progressions while bassist Emily McColgan and drummer John Clooney hold everything together with driving punk rhythms.
TRIALS opens up with “Alone,” a relatively slow-paced track that belies the frenetic pace of the rest of the album. When Ezra shouts, “I’m in to-tal con-trol!” I am reminded of the snarky self-assuredness of Parquet Courts’ “Master of My Craft.” “Dally” is probably the most infectious cut on the album, while “Grass Stain” hypnotizes with an extended krautrock/noise outro. “Now” and “Sentinel” are both high-energy numbers that propel the album to its conclusion, “Beams,” which serves as a cool-down, ending the album on a subdued and calming note. The sincerity and energy with which this band approaches their music is definitely refreshing, and it will be exciting to see what they decide to do next.