My preconceptions about Koufax are somewhat idealized. I put them in the better, earlier days of Vagrant Records, before Dashboard blew up beyond belief and before they started signing bands like Senses Fail. I remember first hearing “Younger Body,” from their second full-length Social Life, on a compilation and being inexplicably drawn to the melodies and simplicity of Koufax. They stuck out from their label-mates simply because the songs were catchy and well written, while remaining well within the parameters of similar groups. But Vagrant now has no recollection of Koufax ever being on their label, so we’ll move on to their latest release, Strugglers.
Strugglers is the group’s fourth album in their eight-year lifespan, and appears to take a different approach to their sound. Robert Suchan, the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, spent a lot of time in Europe to write this album. At first, I picture the aging indie-pop songwriter who goes into seclusion in some remote foreign area to act above all the cookie-cutter bands ruining the American music scene, in their mind. As a result they write more socially aware lyrics, incorporate eclectic world music into their tracks, and attempt to break away from their simple and catchy roots. However, Strugglers succeeds in not quite following this stereotype.
The album opens with “Any Moment Now,” with an array of horns that vaguely resembles a 90's sitcom theme, juxtaposed by a soft keyboard. Contrary to what I expected, the horns actually work very well, adding a new dimension without overtaking the basic melodic progression. My original ideas of how this album would proceed end up getting thwarted pretty early on. Rarely do you hear frivolous use of strange instruments or progressions. I especially enjoyed “In the Name of Love,” a true return to the simple arrangements that I always associated with Koufax.
I’ll admit that I haven’t kept up with Koufax as much as I should have in the past four or five years. Perhaps it’s my nostalgia for watching Hot Rod Circuit open for The Get Up Kids, and my distant wishes to return to better days of musical fandom that makes me enjoy Strugglers so much. But Suchan certainly has sharp pop sensibilities that come through in every arrangement, and the whole album is just pleasant to listen to. You don’t have to stretch your mind to enjoy this, but there’s an underlying complexity that could go unnoticed to the casual listener. Unfortunately, Doghouse has gone a route similar to that of Vagrant, but at least they had the sense to re-sign Koufax.
7.8 / 10
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Koufax wll release their latest full-length effort, Strugglers, on September 23rd via Doghouse Records. The tracklisting to the album is as follows: 1. Any Moment Now 2. Drivers 3. What ...
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