The Hard Way, Only If... And Even Then (Come and Get It Records, 2008)

I'm always looking for new bands to listen to, but when you review albums in cyberspace, sometimes the new bands come looking for you. Such was the case with The Hard Way, a band from Olympia, Washington consisting of Scott Taylor (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Tim Diedrich (guitar, backing vocals), Elizabeth Yeager (bass, backing vocals), and Dave Hyatt (drums, backing vocals). While their sound is likely to be tagged with the amorphous label of "indie rock," their album Only If... and Even Then reflects a fairly broad range of influences.

You can hear Seattle grunge, psychedelic power pop, and a lot of stuff in between on this record. The cover shot of the band hanging out in a room full of LP's certainly suggests an affinity for older rock, and The Hard Way frequently do wear their influences on their sleeves. The punkish opening song "Misspoken" evokes the Police's "Message in a Bottle," the nice mellow track "I Like Elephants" is definitely patterned after The Beatles' "Blackbird," and the fast-paced closer "Favorite Song" has Elvis Costello written all over it. There are even echoes of good but lesser known bands like Love and Big Star. Thankfully, The Hard Way sound more flattering of these older bands than derivative.

If I have a criticism of the album, it's that it seems a bit unfinished to me. Their attempts at group harmonies never quite nail it, and the guitar solos can shift from rock solid to tentative rather abruptly. The longest song on the album, "The Bitch," has the album's best riff, but Taylor fills the gaps between lyrics with a little too much screaming. (The song would also benefit from a subtler title.) Having said all that, there's some promising music on here. "Invisible Girl" and "Favorite Song" are solid rockers, and more subtle songs like "I Like Elephants" and "World Falls Down" work as well. My favorite song on the album is "The Universe Is Flat," a fun send-up of Revolver era Beatles with lyrics as spacey as the title would suggest.

The Hard Way produced and released Only If... and Even Then by themselves. Making a record with a homemade feel is not necessarily a bad thing, but their material is good enough to warrant developing it further. I think they're on the right track with their use of group vocals, for example, but their harmonies do need work. For a band that's just getting started and trying to get noticed, though, the Hard Way show quite a bit of promise. With a bit more care, and perhaps the right producer, I think they can go places.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

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