by Chad Jewett
Pets Hounds, the new album from Chicago trio Pet Symmetry, is a model of clever, well-wrought pop music, assembled with clean precision and real warmth. Like The Beach Boys record on which the title plays, there’s a certain sun-worm comfort to the LP’s ten songs, matched with the kind of melancholy that always seems to float up on the margins of music ostensibly built to fill summer air with major keys. It makes the title of opening track “My Exhausted Month (of May)” wholly apt – this is music for being outdoors on days that feel like they’re moving in slow motion. That funny mix of sun and weariness, it also holds true for the song’s bright, glassy guitars and the crisp distance that envelops an especially poignant vocal from Evan Weiss, a singer gifted enough to make his voice do whatever he wants, but who truly excels when he’s channeling worry and big questions.
Pets Hounds might just be breakthrough work for everyone involved (which includes Dowsing/Kittyhawk members Erik Czaja and Marcus Nuccio), but it is certainly a new milestone for Weiss, whose pop instincts were often refracted through the dense angles of Into It. Over It.’s Intersections, but which, on Pets Hounds, benefit from the sturdy economy of these songs. His melodies are now designed to be direct hits. Take “Go Outside (Stare At The Sun)” – one of the album’s finest songs –, which borrows the diagonal power-pop strums of late-career Phantom Planet while adding some post-hardcore heft, all stitched together by Weiss’s elastic hooks. The song is less than two minutes long, and you get the sense that most of it was designed around that chorus. The album is full of this stuff – quick, athletic songs built for use and impact. On “Cereal Killer” 63 seconds are all it takes for the band to build from a verse to a chorus to a catching, Weezer-esque closing guitar figure. So many of these songs follow the same recipe used to make s’mores – put together a few sugary ingredients and warm it up a little.
Piebald also feels like a touchstone here, not just because, like that band, Pet Symmetry have a screwball approach to pop structures and daffy humor (punning song titles abound), but also because Pets Hounds, like say We Are The Only Friends We Have, is built under a big, capacious umbrella. Which means that the loose-strummed breeziness of “Use Your Illusion III (Knock-Knock-Knockin On Evan’s Door)” flows into the garage-Elvis-Costello sprint of “Spacial Ex-Perception (No.. Sleep.. ’til Bedtime!)”, then into the markedly more barbed post-hardcore of “Aisle (Or Window)”. It’s a delicate balance that doesn’t always come out even, especially given how the sweetened fizz of, say, “Spacial Ex-Perception (No.. Sleep.. ’til Bedtime!)” offers a kind of immediate sugar rush that a more elliptical song like the slow-burning “Salad Daze (Seein’ Cred)” can’t match. Elsewhere, “Gone, Gone, Gone (Even Further Gone)” floats atop a surf-rock churn and an oddly discomfiting not-quite-major/not-quite-minor ambiance that stays unsettled, feeling aimless amidst a pack of songs that are very sure of where they’re headed. More characteristic are early highlights “Give Thanks and Get Lost” and “Class Action Force (Useless Tools)” – a pair of verses, a couple of choruses, and a moving, conversational tunefulness that is about a hundred times harder than it looks.