by Matthew Sigur (@MatthewSigur)
What does college rock sound like? Depends on who you ask. However, when I listen to Acquaintances’ second album, 8 ½ Lives, this is exactly how I want to remember the genre. A sort-of supergroup, Acquaintances boasts members who have played with a murderer’s row of badass bands — The Ponys, The Poison Arrows, Don Caballero, Ted Leo + the Pharmacists, Titus Andronicus, and Thumbnail. Acquaintances gained steam after releasing a self-titled debut in 2013 that was full of tracks pieced together from spaces in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Portland. That recording method was again used on 8½ Lives, but you wouldn’t notice that piecemeal construction when listening to it. Instead, the band’s latest album sounds like a group of lifers jamming in a room. They know that they’re now the older guys in the crowd, but, what the hell — they can still write spiny, intelligent, driving rock ‘n’ roll.
You’ll hear such a mix on the first track, “And It All Went Black,” with its persistent drums, staccato guitar licks, and ample amounts of space for jamming. The tempo doesn’t let up on “Flooded Candle Flickering Flame,” where drum rolls lead the band’s slacker anthem about how “everyday is the same.” Even more impressive is how the band throws the everyday, indie rock disco beat against Sonic Youth-styled guitars on “Barmuda Triangle.” Just as you think the band might be getting too cool for school, they mock creative culture on “I’m an Artisan Goddamnit”: “Wasting your days away sounds like a fucking dream.”
The impact of 8½ Lives comes from the band’s pedigree. These are all guys who have played in bands that were on the cusp of being the thing in rock ‘n’ roll at their respective moments. Like those bands they played with, Acquaintances sounds pissed off, but not angry; distorted, but not annoying; self-aware, but willing to indulge in some feedback-filled guitar solos. Such a mix worked for college rock bands like Superchunk, Guided By Voices, Husker Du and R.E.M. That sound was good enough in the ‘80s, early ‘90s and 15 years ago when it popped back up for a few months. On 8½ Lives, Acquaintances do it just as well.