On their third album, Austin, Texas’ Driver Friendly have totally nailed the totally odd combination of wildly energetic, melodic indie rock (think the Wonder Years meets a young Jimmy Eat World) and horns (think… well, horns). Tunes like “Everything Gold” are superbly catchy with just enough melody, and using a horn section that is equal parts good-time ska in its celebration and obscure second-wave emo in its longing (bonus points if the sound brings Cerberus Shoal to mind).
Tunes like mid-album rockers “Deconstruct You” and “Undone” are sure to get summer festival fans all hot and bothered in the sun, and for good reason: They perfectly exemplify the band’s ability to write a great song and utilize the brass in a way that is totally unexpected yet works so well. Just when the album needs a breather, the band provide it with atmospheric slow-burner “The Conversation,” which is a treat to listen to on headphones. “Start Again” gets a bit too close to cheeseball rock and is, unfortunately, just as infectious as the other tunes; it’s a minor misstep, and by the time anthemic emo (with horns, of course) closer “Bridges” storms the speakers, it’s forgotten and forgiven.
But the secret ingredient is the ’80s-guitar-tone melancholy of “Twenty Centuries Of Sleep”; put it together with the band’s other sounds, and it all adds up to something special. It’s not all roses, though: There’s a nagging feeling throughout the album that these guys aren’t at their full potential yet, and that’s going to come with age. Although it’s no novelty, the reality is that if you take away the horns, the band would be a capable although average emo-rock band. But add them in and it boosts the energy levels through the roof—and creates a sound that is vibrant and new. All in all, Unimagined Bridges is a great step ahead for Tom Hanks’ favorite horn-based indie band.