Homespun: Popular Mechanics

Time and a Half
(Pancake Productions)

In Danish, the phrase "husker du" translates as "do you remember?" In the annals of American indie rock, the name Hüsker Dü recalls the smart, streamlined rock & roll made by the Minnesota band throughout the '80s. The St. Louis trio Popular Mechanics certainly remembers that famed three-piece, so much so that you could mistake singer/guitarist Dave Todd's vocals for Bob Mould's sweet but occasionally snide delivery. On its debut album, Popular Mechanics displays a knack for making catchy, familiar rock music — these three musicians understand the mechanics of popular music, if you'll pardon the wordplay. Opening track "I Don't Mind" bears repeated listens; it's one of several love-gone-wrong songs that Todd approaches with a mix of venom and malaise. The pose works well for the band.

As the band's name and the album's title suggest, a slight blue-collar streak — not in the Springsteen/Mellencamp tradition, but in the straight-ahead, no-frills approach to songcraft — runs through Time and a Half. This method works most of the time, but over the course of ten tracks, the songs' sameness causes one to blend in with another a little too often. But good things happen when the band tinkers with the formula. "Cold Dirty Ground" begins with a jazzy shuffle on drums and light acoustic guitar strums, giving an almost tropical feel to the verses, while the chorus kicks in with crunchier electric guitars. Popular Mechanics may not stray too far from home base, but the band is right at home playing melodic bubblegum rock & roll.

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