These things being equal, you're just as likely to've first heard the Icicles on a Motorola KRZR tv ad than the, whatchamacallit, radio: their infectious "Sugar Sweet" (from debut long-player, A Hundred Patterns) was tagged for a campaign introducing the company's new cell phone. Hopefully, this exposure will work to the benefit of the band's sophomore album, Arrivals & Departures (Microindie), coz it's an engaging slice of indie pop.
The Michigan band – four gals and a guy drummer – specialize in mid-tempo pop-rock: girly lead vocals and addictive choruses, jangly 80's era college rock guitar lines that're frequently mixed frustratingly low, lyrics about love's mishaps, cats and fireflies. (I could do without the cats & fireflies part, but, then, I'm just a surly geezer.) On first listen, much of it sounds overly low-key (listening to album finale "Snappy," with its Spanky & Our Gang choral flourishes, I kept imagining how Francophile Belinda Carlisle and her old group would've powered up the beat), but on replay, the hooks sneak out and prove more plentiful than you first thought.
Led by bespectacled frontwoman Gretchen DeVault, the Grand Rapids group specializes in small pop songs: little observational slabs that at their best ("La Di Da," "Whirling," "Snowbird") capture their young narrators' state of mind; at their worst sound like a lesser track off an old Melanie LP. Fortunately, the high spots outnumber the twee ones, in large part due to the band's deft ways with pop hooks (let's single out lead guitarist Rebecca Rodriquez and grounding keyboardist Joleen Rumsey in particular) and DeVault's sweetly straightforward singing voice (sounds kinda like a more grown-up Juliana Hatfield in places). Among the highlights: the joie-de-vivre celebratory "La Ti Da;" the you'll-miss-me-when-I'm-gone song "Regret" (drummer Greg Krupp almost seems to be channeling the Attractions on this 'un); "Somewhere," with its Smiths-like guitar fingering; and "Snappy," which concludes the disc with both cool attitude ("Keep your judgments to yourself!" Gretchen snips at a deserving ex-) and a great swirling pop-psychedelic finale. Hope they build on this in the future.
But for this Midwesterner, the song that most fully hit me where I live comes right in the album's middle. "Snowbird," a shiver of Cali-pop tunery sung by a seasonally affected Michigander who's feeling trapped in the middle of winter. ("Since we're in Michigan," DeVault sings 'tween an irresistible cooing "lalalala" chorus, "summer may never come again.") It's the modern flyover version of the 60's surf tune "New York's A Lonely Town" (when you're the only surfer boy around). This Central Illinoisian kin definitely relate . . .