Athens, Georgia has had its share of local artists who have gone on to bigger and better things over the years. The B-52s, Widespread Panic and of course, R.E.M. come to mind.
The town's latest product is a threesome known as The Whigs, led by singer/guitarist/pianist Parker Gispert, drummer Julian Dorio, and bassist Tim Deaux. Over the last couple of years or so, this garage rock and roll band has become something of a darling of the press, getting praise from the likes of Paste, Spin, and Rolling Stone magazines. The latter rag called The Whigs the "best unsigned band in America" in their "10 Artists To Watch" list in 2006 after they got hold of their much raved about self-made — largely using ProTools — and self-financed 2005 debut record Give 'Em All A Fat Lip. Spin now calls them a "Breaking Artist" and Paste magazine similarly named the group as one of their "4 Artists To Watch" as well.
So does the music match the hype? When you consider that there isn't one bad or semi-boring song on Mission Control, their second album and first for Dave Matthews' ATO Records, this reviewer does not hesitate to say "yes."
Some critics have compared Gispert's voice to Dave Grohl. I'd say it's a cross between Grohl and a reverb-less Jim James (of My Morning Jacket). On the album-opening butt kicking rocker "Like A Vibration" though, he sounds a bit like Mike Ness with a Southern swagger. These confident, snarly vocals are matched by fast-paced punkish power chords and equally quick and slick drum work. It's no wonder why Esquire awarded Dorio the best drummer in the land last year.
By the time the keyboard trickles in on "I Never Want To Go Home," comparisons to At Dawn-era My Morning Jacket begin to manifest themselves. New single "Right Hand of My Heart," which The Whigs performed on the Late Show with David Letterman near the end of January, just days after this record hit stores, is a joyous rocker that sounds like a Pearl Jam-meets-My Morning Jacket jam.
The soothing and psychedelic electric and pedal steel guitar work (by guest Matt Stoessel) of "Sleep Sunshine" is a nice change of pace. While the simple, straight-ahead classic rock — in the vein of The Who and AC/DC — rules the day on "Need You, Need You," songs like "I Got Ideas" have an indie rock influence, Superchunk in particular. This is no surprise, since Gispert was so into indie rock that in his teens he started his own Modest Mouse fansite. He also idolized The Replacements, Pavement, and local group The Glands, among others.
Speaking of The Replacements, the hip, guitar pop of "Hot Bed" easily recalls vintage Paul Westerberg and perhaps Buffalo Tom as well. Temporary bass player Adam Saunders leads the way with some of the most melodic bass lines on the record.
Finally, trumpets, trombone, and saxophones join a parade of instruments on the ambitious and waltzy album-ending title track. How fitting it is that The Whigs (and producer Rob Schnapf) arranged a sudden shift from the loudness of all the instruments and guest musicians involved to a quiet, dreamy melody that fades away into the night with just the original trio of bass, drums and guitars.
In summary, Mission Control is a great record full of plenty of hooks and no BS, as it is a mere 37 minutes long. It is also a very early contender for album of the year (at least in my book, anyway). It's a step up on all fronts — production and songwriting, most notably — from The Whigs's first album and should definitely propel them to bigger and better things, just like some of those aforementioned homegrown superstars before them.
For more information on the band and future tour dates, visit their Myspace page.