The Brakes: The Brakes – Vol. II (EP)

An upstart five-some rustling up a serious fuss in their native Philadelphia, the Brakes draw you in with a deceptively laid-back funk-rock thing, probably reminiscent of Sublime, the easy name-check, but also less remembered and way more musical groups of kind like e:verything and the Getaway People. First impressions developed, the discernible difference, and the band’s most beguiling, outside-of-the-box attribute, is a psychedelic blues undercurrent that creeps in just when you fear things are getting too cookie cutter frat rock. A song like “Animal Eyes” leads off innocently enough and threatens a harmless Badfish-esque bop-along, but then manages blasts of cockeyed Steve Miller cool — ambient guitars are a welcome focus — and a swampier vibe that draws the Brakes closer to, say, a more sexed-up gumbo a la Little Feat or the Radiators than your average collective of popped collar vanilla groovers.

The band’s latest EP, The Brakes – Volume II is a wholly listenable appetite whetter that promises more than it actually delivers–and with its small-format, 5-song sampler plate, that’s hardly a demerit. If the opening three tracks, “Eyes,” “Johann” and “Life’s Work” nearly starve for variety, the back two songs, “Friday Night Minute” and “Find My Way,” are vigorous nourishment, hinting at a range of directions and tangential identities this band could take as a concert outfit.

Attractive is a range of organ and Rhodes piano flourishes from ‘boardist Adam Flicker: agile, sinewy keyboards that are of paramount importance to a group like this one. Add to that some buzzsaw, Little Milton-type guitar solo theatrics from a tandem–Matt Kass and Derek Feinberg, the latter a proficient slide man–and the multi-talented Zach Djanikian, who in addition to being the band’s principle songwriter and lead vocalist is also its bassist (locking into some thick ‘n’ greasy pockets with drummer John Sack), and even finds space for a sly tenor sax entreaty every so often. The Brakes seem at ease with their thing because the sound is worked-on: buoyant and even vibrant at times, instead of slacker-funk noodley as is the standard. While it seems merely a totem for its brevity and limited range, the EP will be a good primer in advance of a right-and-ready live experience.

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