Artist: Top Shelf Lickers
First thing's first. Top Shelf Lickers' latest EP lacks the harmonica that helped distinguish their previous LP. Circumstances are weird when we're talking about harmonica in a punk review, but that's TSL – not your average punk band. All it takes is a few spins of Neil Turk wailing on that thing during Head First's “Mr. McShakes” and “Off My Head” to know how much instruments like that add to TSL's mix. But if harmonica is Top Shelf Lickers' role player cherished for its reliable contributions behind the arc, then it's Turk's pop song-craft/harmonies doing the heavy lifting of an MVP [think Tony Snell versus Joakim Noah].
In other words, Heart Beats Brain! has enough memorable moments for the highlights shows, even without Snell's corner three: the nothing-but-net hooks of “Dead Beat Dad” and “Can't Stop Dreaming”; the uber-punk transitions of “Bobby the Bullshitter” (“one, two, three, four” at :43); the harmony-laden bridge of Can't Stop Dreaming” (“Had it all back then but I didn’t know / I was full of gratitude but it didn’t show” at 2:25); and the multiple melodies of “It's Never Enough” ( I don’t want to go with you no more …. I don’t need you” from :51-1:17).
Top Shelf Lickers is kind of like a starter bra for fans developing punk tendencies (“stop staring at my punk tendencies!”). Having spruced up tight chord charts with conventionally non-punk instruments on Head First (piano/harmonica), they now melodically mention artists more familiar to the indie scene. After hearing TSL's “Without You,” you go back and realize that neither The Smiths' original nor Billy Bragg's cover of “Jeane” could reach the heights TSL does through the perfected pop punk chorus (“Time ain't on my side when it comes to you” at :53).
But inhering in any EP-length release, is that when something's great, there's never enough of it. Perhaps TSL acknowledges as much when it titled “It's Never Enough,” a song that starts with a standout guitar-permeated intro, but doesn't repeat the riff till the very end. Note to TSL: When you scratch my itch, it's never enough.
*** The author of this review, Leonard Fisher, plays the taiko for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8