On Hypnotized, Scott Kannberg provides another mesmerizing manifesto
Any offshoot of a famous band seems to be suspect from early on. After all, competing with the fame and success of the mother ship is bound to be a challenge right at the outset. A glance at most spin-offs from better known combos throughout the decades seems to confirm that prognosis.
Did Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo stand a chance of competing against Fleetwood Mac? Could Keith Richards and his band, the X-Pensive Winos, ever overshadow the Rolling Stones? For that matter, has any solo effort by the members of Crosby, Stills and Nash ever been able to find equal standing compared to the collective as a whole?
(We’re not going to count Neil Young as part of that quotient. He’s always been his own man. Likewise, the Foo Fighters’ rise from the ashes of Nirvana offers another notable exception.)
That said, Spiral Steps, the nom de plume for Scott Kannberg, a founding member of Pavement, has managed to etch an identity that’s kept him a constant in the indie world. Although Hyp-No-Tized is only his third solo album under the current brand name, he also had a pair of earlier outings under the ubiquitous handle Preston School of Industry. While Pavement will always be the predominant name on his resume, Spiral Steps may be the project that eventually allows him to overshadow any of his earlier initiatives.
Still, it won’t be an easy task — Stephen Malkmus, the primary name in Pavement, is still establishing his singular identity with and now without his solo band the Jinks. (It’s worth noting that Malkmus’ new album, the tellingly titled Groove Denied, makes no mention of the Jinks at all.)
And yet, if enthusiasm and exhilaration count for anything, suffice it to say Spiral Steps have all the additives needed. Although a couple of tracks provide some respite — specifically, the reflective but still resilient “Fingerprintz,” a song that could have been usurped from the Lou Reed songbook, and the album’s sole ballad, a ditty titled “Diario” — the majority of the album maintains its upward gaze. There’s no shortage of energy and exhortation, but even as the rock and roll revelry continues practically unabated, the melodic appeal is a continued constant. Unlike Pavement’s left of center excess and eccentricity, Kannberg emphasizes cohesion and structure via hooks, refrains and a generally genial attitude that compels the listener to giddily sing alongt. It helps, of course, that the triumphant opening of “Borderline” purveys the stomp and swagger of “Brown Sugar”; after all, what better way to get the crowds shuffling and the air guitars to be tuned than a catchy and compelling intro seemingly swiped from the Mick and Keef songbook.
Granted, three albums alone isn’t enough to know how far Spiral Steps will eventually climb. Yet, if Hyp-No-Tized is any indication, it’s fair to say Kannberg is completely capable of putting audiences under his spell. Given its drive, determination, punch and persistence, Spiral Steps ought to have no problem reaching that next level.