Personnel: Josh Berwanger (vocals, Mellotron, synthesizer, percussion); Ricky Salthouse (guitar, acoustic guitar, background vocals); Brian Klein (Moog synthesizer, percussion); Jonny Phillip (drums).
Audio Mixer: Doug Boehm.
Recording information: Element Recording, KCMO.
Photographer: Zach Bauman.
With 2013's Strange Stains, Kansas native Josh Berwanger established himself as an engaging solo artist with an emphasis on big melodies and a warm, jangle rock tone. Three years later, he's back on tour with his long-defunct group, the Anniversary, celebrating the release of his second solo venture, the hard-driving Exorcism Rock. Whether it's the influence of his old bandmates -- one of whom joins him here -- or of producer Doug Boehm who also helmed the Anniversary's 2003 swan song, Your Majesty, Berwanger comes out of the gate recharged and full confidence. With a bold new band behind him and billed simply as Berwanger, Exorcism Rock has plenty of streamlined riffy swagger with provocative titles that bely the sweet melodies contained within. Though undeniably upbeat, standout cut "Booty Shake" is less a party anthem than an amiable, sugar-dusted ode to seizing the day. Likewise, "Slutty Skin" has a similarly wistful Buddy Holly vibe and hooks for days. Nearly all of the songs have pleasing, harmony-stacked choruses, two of which are leant extra shine by contributions from Anniversary keyboardist/singer Adrianne deLanda (née Verhoeven). Listening to Berwanger and his old bandmate harmonize on "Black Sun" and "Forever," you can hear echoes of the Anniversary's emo-inspired ambition, but matured neatly into a more timeless sound. At times Berwanger's simplistic lyrics fumble from too many overripe clichés, but the deftness of his power pop songcraft tends to tip the scales the right way, making Exorcism Rock a winning and even infectious set. ~ Timothy Monger