Kansas City power-pop quartet delivers big hooks on raw-nerved debut
If Take a Whiff!, the eight-song, debut EP from Kansas City, Missouri power-pop quartet the Whiffs, comes on like the soundtrack to a raging party, it's with good reason.
The band, which celebrated its one-year anniversary on the 4th of July, captured the album in a single night at Element Recording, a Kansas City studio attached to a reception hall that, at the time, was spilling over with booze-addled acquaintances.
“Some of our friends were in and out [of the studio] because they were at a wedding reception next door, so people were just coming in and hanging out while we did the whole thing,” said singer and bassist Zach Campbell, who joins bandmates Rory Cameron (guitar/vocals), Nic Allred (guitar/vocals) and Jake Cardwell (drums) in concert at Double Happiness on Thursday, July 6. “It didn't feel like a sterile thing. It felt like a party the entire time we were there.”
The mood suited the freewheeling songs, which are largely loose, scrappy and packed with big hooks that, given a good polish, wouldn't sound out of place on top 40 radio. Of course, this unvarnished feel is entirely by design — a nod to those bands that served as a source of inspiration for the Whiffs, including the dB's, the Records and, in particular, the Exploding Hearts, whose 2003 album Guitar Romantic opened Campbell's eyes to the possibilities inherent in that raw-yet-melodic style of rock 'n' roll.
“It sounded like nothing else that was remotely popular at that time,” said Campbell, who grew up in Pinckneyville, a small, Southern Illinois town that numbered around 3,000. “A lot of people get attached to their tragic story, but when I first heard them I had no idea they died (three of the four band members were killed in a car accident shortly after the album's release). So then there was also this element of mystery with them, as well. ‘What would they have done if?' ‘What would the next record have sounded like?'”
Additionally, the Whiffs' logo pays homage to England's Stiff Records, the legendary British indie that released early albums from the likes of Elvis Costello, the Damned and Wreckless Eric, whose 1977 single “Whole Wide World” has been described by Campbell in interviews as power pop perfection.
Beneath its pogoing surface, however, Take a Whiff! is occasionally shattered. Lyrically,the album centers on relationships, drifting from that first, pulse-quickening, googly-eyed glance to the bleary-eyed aftermath of a bad breakup (listen in as the tears flow freely amid peppy staccato guitars on “I Don't Wanna”).
“Well, I mean, I can't say we weren't going through all of those things over the year we wrote [the album],” Campbell said with a laugh. “I think we were all in different stages.”