If naming the album opener after former Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos didn’t make it obvious, San Fran-based quintet Cocktails conjure up the ghosts of power pop past throughout their excellent third long player. The aforementioned “Bun E. Carlos” sets the template, with a punchy rhythm section, crunchy rhythm guitars, soaring guitar solos, loopy synths, boy-girl harmonies, and sunny, super-catchy melodies. The rest of the album mixes up these basic ingredients to form a pleasantly varied menu of power pop delights, from the Sloan-esque “Nobody’s Going to the Movies” to the Clash-y stomp of “Janeland,” from the Jayhawks-ian country jangle of “Washoe County” to the Weezerish yearning of album closer “Take It Back.” (If you like the Gin Blossoms, blink and you might miss about three-quarters of the guitar riff from “Follow You Down” crop up in “Never Be Alone.”) Lead guitarist Joel Cusumano is the most valuable player here, punching up the songs with solos that are bright, catchy, but don’t overstay their welcome.
If there is one complaint to lodge against Catastrophic Entertainment, it’s the recording of the vocals. The production focuses on the guitars, giving them a clean, crisp sound, but Patrick Clos’ vocals by comparison have an echo-y quality that has a distancing effect on the listener—the melodies still come through but the lyrics don’t particularly jump out (power pop bands are usually known for their clever wordplay but I’ll be damned if I could quote any lyric here outside of a chorus) and Clos’ attitude and emotion are muted. The effect works a little better when Clos and keyboardist Lauren Matsui duet, the boy-girl melodies and Matsui’s space-age synths giving several tracks an Elephant 6/Apples in Stereo vibe. My initial frustration with the vocals fortunately did diminish with repeated listens, since the songs are instrumentally sturdy enough that they still connect. Catastrophic Entertainment packs 11 brisk songs into its exactly 27 minutes, allowing even the few moments that don’t quite connect, like the slow-tempo psychedelia of “Buried Alive” that is tucked in to give the album’s back half a change of pace, skate by to make way for the next pop gem. | Jason Green