Ever since I listened to Tiny Magnets' 2010 debut EP Daughters of the Frontier, they've ranked high on my list of Chicago bands I've been most anxious to hear more from. The six tracks on that release had a timeless quality that captured the spirit of Midwestern rock and roll--full of heart and soul without being gimmicky, simultaneously pretty and rough around the edges, and devoid of pretense. It sounded like the work of a band that just wanted to make great music and really couldn't care less if they ever got a mention on Pitchfork, and I loved that. After spending the past year playing regular live shows and taking some time in the studio, Tiny Magnets are back with Time to Try, another strong set of tracks that picks up where Daughters of the Frontier left off, but with an even more confident sound and a bit more stylistic variation. You could cite plenty of genres to describe the album, from alternative rock to power pop to folk rock; what makes it all work so well is the consistently high quality songwriting and the genuineness of the delivery--these are heartfelt tunes that stand out with earworm guitar hooks, solid melodies and guy-girl vocals.
Tiny Magnets have a knack for opening strong. On Daughters of the Frontier it was "Olivia," a starry-eyed, slightly melancholy dose of tuneful rock that sounded like it could have been played on 120 Minutes back in the day. On Time to Try it's "New London" which takes everything that makes the band's sound so appealing and rolls it up into three minutes; the bittersweet mood, Kevin Henretta's ringing guitar, the accessible melody and the co-ed singing are all well represented. The vocal tradeoff is especially effective here, with Brian Cremins (who also plays bass) starting off with his cool rasp and Allison Felus's bright delivery stepping in with a great part that starts by asking, "So where should I begin and how did it end?" It's an example of a song that manages to showcase two lead singers equally and sound effortless in the process.
The rest of the tracks expand on the various facets of the band's overall sound. With Allison's sweet vocals and well-defined melodies, "Boy in the Pink Shirt" and "Kid Boots" contribute a poppy, upbeat vibe; the former sounds like discovering some overlooked jangle pop track from a really cool '80s indie label, the latter introducing an unexpected but not unwelcome lilting reggae groove. Then there's the atmospheric, epic quality of indie rockers "Ocean Bound" and "White River," the rollicking "Magic Box," and the folky twang of "Jeannie" and "Kelly's Song." Despite the differences, there is a distinct mood and style running throughout that makes everything sound cohesive. I only wish Time to Try were a little longer than its eight tracks--a couple more would have given it a more complete LP feel.
Bands can load up their music with as many tricks as they like, but in the end it all comes down to the quality of the songs and the spirit that's injected into them. That's what makes Tiny Magnets such a refreshing listen--they're not trying to do anything radically different, and they don't need to because they know how to make an honest tune that stays with you and keeps you coming back for more.
Check out more record reviews:
To Destroy A City - S/T