Personnel: Christopher Brown (vocals, guitar); John Elliott (synthesizer); Jayson Gerycz (drums).
Audio Mixer: Andrew Veres.
Recording information: 16819 Fowles Rd.
When Total Babes' debut album, Swimming Through Sunlight, appeared in 2011, the group's connection to Cloud Nothings was duly noted. Both groups hailed from the Cleveland area, and Jayson Gerycz had played drums in both bands. Also similar to Cloud Nothings, Total Babes started out playing bratty, somewhat amateur, lo-fi pop-punk similar to Wavves, but have shown marked maturity and increased production values and musicianship. While Cloud Nothings amassed an extensive discography of singles, EPs, and full-lengths documenting their progress, Total Babes didn't release anything in between their 2011 and 2015 full-lengths, making their leap in progress jarring. Swimming Through Sunlight generally consisted of youthful, two-minute pop-punk love songs, with the exception of five-minute doo wop-influenced ballad "Without Your Heart." Arriving four years later, Heydays sports much cleaner production, trading the garage-recorded distortion for clear hooks and fuller arrangements. Vocalist Christopher Brown closely resembles Bob Mould, and the group's hooks recall the early-'90s glory days of Sugar. The lyrics are also far more poetic and existential than the simple puppy-love sentiments of the first album, addressing subjects such as aging and disillusionment. Most surprising about the group's development is the addition of John Elliott on synthesizer (formerly of cosmic drone trio Emeralds, as well as the founder of the fantastic Spectrum Spools label). Elliott's synths blend surprisingly well with the group's energetic, Superchunk-like power pop sound, adding atmosphere and augmenting the strong guitar melodies. There's a little bit of room for experimentation on Heydays, with a brief freakout occurring during the end of "Bone Dry Eyes," and "Circling" featuring squawking sax by Cloud Nothings leader Dylan Baldi, which oddly resembles John Zorn's guest appearance on a late-'80s Half Japanese album. "Sunny Side" is a brief ambient piano instrumental, which leads into the mellow slow burner "Repeat Gold." Breezy, surf-inflected "Can I Turn You On" ends the short album on a high note. Heydays is a surprisingly mature, accomplished second effort from a group who previously might have been perceived as a joky side project. ~ Paul Simpson