Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Decibels - When Red Lights Flash

Four years ago I remarked how wonderful it was that Sacramento power pop greats The Decibels were still in vintage form in the year 2019. It's even more of a joy to be able to make the same observation in 2023. When Red Lights Flash is The Decibels' fourth album of original material. It arrives 26 years after their first and five years after their third. It was already a work in progress in early 2020, but the band ended up putting the album on hold until last year due to the pandemic. As work resumed on When Red Lights Flash, the band members found themselves notably changed by the pandemic. And thus the album itself changed. The liner notes nicely sum up the difference by saying that if 2018's Scene Not Herd "was the Decibels in 1965, then When Red Lights Flash would be the Decibels in 1967." The implication, of course, is that decades' worth of musical progression were crammed into the two-year jump between 1965 and 1967. One might argue that 2020-2022 was equally revolutionary for society as a whole. 

While The Decibels have not exactly gone full psychedelic on us, When Red Lights Flash does feel weightier and more sophisticated than its predecessors. That said, The Decibels still sound like The Decibels. If anything, I'd say they've never sounded more like a pure pop band. I'm always fond of bands that achieve longevity because it allows them to become better versions of themselves. It's neat to hear these same four players (Brent Seavers, Dean Seavers, Brian Machado, Joe Pach) still doing what they've always done but with the benefit of increased musical skill and decades of added life experience. When Red Lights Flash does not fundamentally change the way The Decibels write songs and play music. But it finds them doing what they do better than they have ever done it before. While I've long romanticized the importance of the band's debut album Create Action! on the modern power pop revival, I have to admit that When Red Lights Flash is a significantly better album. Across these 12 tracks, the band leans into a punchy, melody-driven style of songwriting that's reminiscent of the 1960s yet truly timeless. This is classic Decibels and classic pop defined: ringing melodies, tuneful guitars, dynamic drumming, and hooks for days. While many of these songs were likely written pre-2020, there's little doubt that the seriousness and deep reflectiveness of some of these lyrics were influenced by the pandemic. 

While not quite their "COVID record," When Red Lights Flash is an album The Decibels likely could not have made three or four years ago. This master class work of melodic guitar pop is available now in digital and compact disc formats. Vinyl coming later this year!

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