When I first listened to Sleeper Agent, two words immediately came to mind. The first was joie de vivre, the second was unpolished. The first is always wonderful, and the latter is not always a bad thing. Just listen to the sextet from Kentucky’s debut album Celebrasion to understand why.
Each song is vibrating with post-adolescent kinetic energy and hook-filled rock. The album runs furiously out of the gates with “Get It Daddy,” a punk-chord filled anthem with bubble-gum pop sensibilities. The bounciness is a recurring theme throughout, but each song is driven by youthful exuberance. Each song is aggressively attacked like the members of the band are truly using the music as an emotional release, and each member has a lot to get out.
The dynamic nature of the band is easy to understand; most members have recently entered their 20s and singer Alex Kandel is now able to vote and buy scratch tickets, but can’t buy a drink at most of the bars the band plays. This also lends itself to understanding why the band is a little rough around the edges, yet full of so much potential.
They have the song-writing and sound structure down. Each song is a hook-fest with catchy beats and fun punk chord progressions. Alex Kandel and Tony Smith trade off vocals with expert timing and both sing lyrics about breakups, love, and tell their parents “I’m not a baby no more.” With six band members, the songs have a layered richness and you pick up on a new sound and note with each listen. This is also a testament to the production value of Celebrasion, which adds a level of polish to the album and the vocalists’ young voices.
As well as the vibrant “Get It Daddy,” the album has a 50s era love song in “Love Blood” which morphs into contemporary rock pop. “Bottomed Out” does a great job of picking up where Stellastarr left off with post-punk melodies building into a crescendo of sound and ephemeral vocals by Kendal. There is a sweet, 70s-style ballad in “That’s My Baby.” The album concludes with the emotional and space-like “Far and Wide,” following my rules that a good rock album needs a strong closer that leaves the listener wanting more.
Sleeper Agent has emerged from Bowling Greenas the next big thing and has been furiously hitting the road and winning people over at SXSW and touring with fellow Kentuckians Cage the Elephant. Listening to their album, watching live clips, hearing stories of people who have seen them in concert, and anecdotes of the bands shenanigans, it is obvious these guys and lady are having a ball together. Celebrasion is a great addition to Awesome August summer listening, and I look forward to a follow-up and a chance to see them live.