Chords to Live By is a clever title for B&E's first full-length, but it's a bit misleading: There's only one type of chord this quintet knows, and it's the power chord. The album delivers twelve funny, cynical rock songs full of supercharged guitars and knowing winks; in fact, the Hold Steady's Craig Finn will be pissed that B&E wrote a song called "Killer Riff" before he did. Still, the quintet's HS jones — evident on the lovably shambling 2007 EP, We Regret Everything — has turned from '70s classic rock toward '80s pop-metal.
But even with the amps turned up to eleven and the cheap stomp boxes permanently set to "shred," singer Brendan Corcoran remains the undeniable center of this band. His yelping, affected vocals allow him to hold court with the fervor of a pilled-up holiness preacher (as he does on the opener "We Are All a Mighty Fine Mess") or sputter out of control (like on "You're a Mess"). That the word "mess" is included in two song titles is no mistake — B&E is interested in the sound of things falling apart, both in the love-gone-wrong story-songs and in its sometimes-sloppy musicianship. Corcoran's full-throated strain is part of the band's charm, but his vocals reach their reedy limits on "The Day We Got the City Back," and the shredding guitars often fall out of sync with the shuffling drumbeats. But if B&E isn't quite the shit-kicking bar band it wants to be, Chords is a good start.
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