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Music Review: The Perms – Sofia Nights

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An album of loud, balmy power pop, Sofia Nights is the fifth outing from Winnipeg’s The Perms. It is the follow-up to the Sloan-touched Keeps You Up When You’re Down and coaxes memories of cruising around on summer nights with nothing but playful trouble on the mind.

The trio, led by Shane Smith (bass, vocals), will draw the inevitable comparisons to the likes of the aforementioned Sloan and the likes of Weezer, but there’s still something altogether Manitoba about what these cats are up to with each slice of guitar-infused pop.

Sofia Nights is a step away from being down-to-earth, which is a good thing when the thread drawing these songs together is that of playful, swinging pop music. In the Canadian middle, it’s got to be vastly tempting to draw upon the earthy, roots-inspired acoustica that so often draws bands from the Great White North together. To make a record that is so unashamedly fun? That’s daring stuff.

There will be those sour-faced weirdos with lensless glasses who will decry The Perms’ brand of power pop as predictable and that’s a valid critique to some extent, but there’s a lot more going on here than simply spotting the notes as they roll across. As I’ve mentioned at length in the past, the predictability factor can be dutifully overcome when other elements are in play.

And Sofia Nights has other elements like Winnipeg has an NHL team again.

First up, the vocal blend between Shane and Chad Smith (guitars, vocals) is something that sets these songs apart from the herd. Take “Slipping Away,” for instance. Here we have a cool line of backing vocals that float flawlessly behind Shane’s somewhat biting lead. It gets even tighter when Chad drops a few hot guitar licks into the mix, turning the song into a real scorcher.

Another element is the guitar crunch. The Weezer comparisons are apropos, but there’s something altogether Jets-fried about what The Perms are pulling off here. The bristlier licks of “Mannheim” are nicely balanced by the classic 50s party anthem rock of “High School High.”

One of my favourites is “Make It Through,” a track that lets Shane let loose with an angry tirade of lyrics. The Perms rock an interesting contrast with deviously sweet backing vocals, but the chomp of guitar and Smith’s “all that I can do these days” vocals tell a different tale.

The Perms have taken a step ahead in their fond look back on their latest. Their approach is slightly harder, but it’s no less fun than it’s always been. For fans of toe-tapping, head-nodding music, these Sofia Nights are worth reliving again and again.

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