Having received waves of acclaim from Pitchfork and various other blogs this past year, New Jersey based four-piece Big Troubles remain something of an unknown quantity outside the cooler confines of the US underground scene. Last year's debut long player 'Worry' set the cat among the pigeons. Initially released on tiny New York independent Olde English Spelling Bee, previously responsible for early releases by the likes of Ducktails and Portland Bike Ensemble, 'Worry' helped spread Big Troubles name to a wider audience via word of mouth, culminating in highly regarded Brooklyn imprint Slumberland taking them on board for the follow-up, hence the slightly raised profile that accompanies this release.
It's also worth noting that they managed to secure the services of legendary producer Mitch Easter, a man credited for helping shape REM's signature sound having worked on many of their releases throughout the 1980s from 'Radio Free Europe' and 'Murmur' onwards. What Easter brings to proceedings here is a slice of parity; at times restoring Big Troubles back to the simplistic ideals of melody when the propensity to fall into lo-fi self-indulgence threatens to take over.
For the most part, Big Troubles follow a similar lineage to fellow underground success stories Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils. While at times the vocals get buried in a mix of jangly guitars and echo-laden rhythms, it's a fusion that suits the mood for 'Romantic Comedy', and ultimately makes this another worthwhile addition to Slumberland's increasingly impressive back catalogue.
Opener 'She Smiles For Pictures' won't win any prizes for originality from anyone that's heard The Posies or Guided By Voices, yet Ian Drennan's heartfelt vocal coupled with its radio friendly sheen ensures the gateway to the rest of 'Romantic Comedy' remains open. "I just wanna have some fun!" retorts Drennan and co-vocalist Alex Craig on 'Misery', exuding a youthful exuberance reflective of their tender years, while 'Sad Girls' takes the schizophrenic nature of Girls first album down a more refined boulevard, its commentators chirping "I've got a real bad attitude" apologetically from the start.
Probably the most obvious point of reference to Big Troubles' make-up would be The Cure. While most of their contemporaries have settled for the icier waters of 'Seventeen Seconds' and 'Faith', Big Troubles favour the unashamed pop thrills of 'Wish' or 'Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me' as demonstrated by 'Minor Keys', a structural doppelganger for 'Friday I'm In Love', or pulsating closer 'Never Mine' which provides a racy climax to what is a generally mid-placed affair.
Of course there is a genuine concern that America seems to be churning out a conveyor belt of 1980s influenced indie pop groups in the same way as the UK's current fascination with Dinosaur Jr reared slacker pop. However, there's enough variety on 'Romantic Comedy' to suggest Big Troubles aren't about to forfeit their own identity just yet.