If the Kelly brothers of the band A Fragile Tomorrow set out to make the perfect power pop record, they couldn’t have come up with a better pair of producers than Mitch Easter and Ted Comerford on the resulting disc, Be Nice Be Careful, out this week. Easter is reknowned as the founder of 80’s college rock popsters Let’s Active and he has been an active producer in North Carolina for many years; Comerford has worked with Easter and many of the best producers in the business.
The band’s back story is fascinating, with the three brothers–Dominic, Sean, and Brendan–and their family moving from Montgomery, New York to Charleston, South Carolina to follow a musical muse that included a love for the music of Hootie & the Blowfish as well as some of the same 80’s touchstones that spurred those SC natives—R.E.M., Guadalcanal Diary, Dumptruck, Marshall Crenshaw. That they have ended up working with a number of those artists, including The Bangles, Don Dixon and The Indigo Girls (who all make guest appearances on the new album) just makes the continuing tale more sweet.
Be Nice Be Careful is a modest yet assured set of songs that are whip-snapping tight and full of the kind of ringing guitars and vocal harmonies that made their heroes’ music so enduring. The centerpiece is “Kernersville”, which possesses one of those stick-in-your-head choruses and an undeniable pop hook, but there are other highlights such as the Crenshaw-esque “Long Time To Be Happy”, the almost alt-country twang of “Intentions”, and the silly organ riff that opens the album on “Don’t Need Saving.”
There’s a musical innocence here that might come from the fact that the band members are barely out of their teens (with the exception of non-Kelly brother Shaun Rhodes), but the lyrics belie that wide-eyed optimism with some emotional and insightful snippets of wisdom on tracks such as “My Home” and “Crooked Smiles and Greedy Hands.”
It’s only the first release day of the new year, but with my 2012 top ten lists not far in the rearview mirror I can’t help but think about 2013’s list and the odds that this one will be on it are pretty high.
Here’s a clip of them playing “Kernersville” at last year’s CMJ Music Marathon in NYC: