"No" By The Cell Phones (Chicago, IL)/Experimental Rock/Released Dec 2016
There is many a band that likes to call themselves unique. Claim that their sound can’t be easily described. That they don’t sound like anyone else. And then there are bands that are truly their own entity. Ones who leave you scratching your head as to what box you can place them in. The windy city trio The Cell Phones are definitely kin to the latter.
The foundation for The Cell Phones began when drummer Justin Purcell and vocalist Lindsey Charles met in college at Indiana University. After a chance reunion after both of them moved to Chicago following college, Charles was invited to try singing for the band Purcell was forming which is also where she was introduced to bassist Ryan Szeszycki and thus The Cell Phones were born.
The trio has been playing together since at least 2009. Following the release of three EPs the group released their debut album Get You Alone in 2013. Following several years of touring and many shows the band released their follow up and most recent full length No in December of 2016.
The Cell Phones’ quirky sound sports influence that spans as far from Blondie to Dillinger Escape Plan. Many of the songs found on No can go from catchy pop melodies to hardcore blast beats at the drop of a hat. A generally upbeat and uptempo sound, the group utilizes a unique set up of vocals, drums, and acoustic bass pushed through dual cabs that give their leading instrument a harmonized, full and buzzy tone. While comparisons to Death From Above 1979 can be made The Cell Phones aren’t as bound to rhythmic riff rock with the adept percussion of Justin Purcell handling all rhythm needs. This frees up bassist Szeszycki to play more complex patterns than normally would be heard in a single stringed instrument band. The balancing act between pop and aggressive instrumentation acts as a showcase for their front woman’s range of vocal style. Lindsey Charles’ charismatic voice can sing sweet melodies just as easily as perform punk shouts and ties together the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the group’s sound.
No’s eleven tracks are a high energy dose of rock and roll that doesn’t know how to slow down. Each song is relatively short and to the point with only half of the tracks surpassing the three minute mark. While the band’s sound can be unorthodox and chaotic it’s cohesive and consistent with a strong sense of fun throughout. Album opener and likely album title namesake “You Make Me Say No” displays the group’s 80s influence with an upbeat dance rhythm and a cheery pop vocal melody complete with do wop-esque backing vocals sprinkled in. The next three tracks “Pariah”, “Shock Value”, and “Bachelor” well represent the meat of The Cell Phones’ sound with their balance of choppy, dynamic rhythms and catchy vocal melodies. “Pariah” especially showcases the band’s more hardcore influences with fast blast beats and punk inspired shout vocals. “Put Me In The Dark” has a sound reminiscent of early Queens of the Stone Age with it being built around a bass heavy, driving rhythm and perhaps Charles’ most powerful vocals of the album. Promotional single “Lake Shore Drive”, named for the major lake front road in Chicago where the band is from, has the most layered production of any track on the record with a wall of sound vocal layering in the chorus, call and response backing vocals, and a saxophone solo performed by Paul Nixon. “Loud”, “Le Mans” and “9 to 5″ brings things back into new wave territory with the band blending new wave with more punk elements and a notable swing beat in the chorus of “Loud”. The shortest song on No, “Damage”, doesn’t even surpass the two minute mark and is definitely one of the album’s more aggressive efforts. Album closer, “When You Go”, is a softer track for The Cell Phones with the vocals being fully melodic and is devoid of the more aggressive elements the band previously showcased on the album despite still being an uptempo track.
Popcore? New wavecore? Mathy dance rock? Whatever you want to classify them as The Cell Phones are definitely a sound all their own. Combining elements from dance, pop, metal and a mash of other things this trio performs it all with a wild energy and swagger unlike any other. After years of melting faces with nary a six string in sight these windy city rockers have developed a sound that’s never short on energy or style and No is a perfect display of their unique ear candy.