Not so much a band as a marvellous studio project, THE WEIGHTLIFTERS are the brainchild of one Adam McLaughin (AKA Ray O.Sunshine), a Chicago-based Philly native who was previously guitarist for a band called Idle Wilds who were signed to the legendary Memphis label Ardent Records for a while during the 1990s by none other than Big Star drummer Jody Stephens.
All of which is more than enough to prick this writer's ears up, but the great news is that Adam's debut with his new project The Weightlifters has more than enough to recommend it on its' own terms. It's an accomplished six-track EP/mini-LP and serves notice that McLaughlin and his compadres are folk of taste and refinement who know more than a trick or three where the great US power-pop lineage is concerned.
Actually, I say 'compadres', but Adam himself plays virtually all the instruments. The drumming is flown in from Texas (Ron Wikso) and California (Jim McCarty), there's an occasional flourish of strings and McLaughlin's wife Carol contributes some guitar to one tune, but otherwise everything you hear is traceable back to Adam himself.
If you weren't privy to this information, however, you'd automatically assume this was the work of a full and well-drilled outfit because these six tracks are cohesive and layered throughout. Opener 'Undefined' is proud, driving, spangly and forceful all at once and topped off nicely by McLaughlin's attractively breathy vocals. Yes - as with the ensuing 'Low' - it's difficult to deny the Big Star/ Teenage Fanclub leanings at work and play, but importantly McLaughlin's songs are very much their own men even if they do bask in the glow of familiarity at times.
Besides, even the briefest of listens to the title track makes it abundantly clear that Adam is determined to stretch himself as much as possible. This tune is slower, considerably more moody and the execution is more than a little discomfiting. There's a noticeably Elliott Smith-ish timbre in McLaughlin's voice here and thanks to the overall atmosphere, his delivery and a lovely, slow-release guitar solo, 'The Last Of The Sunday Drivers' is a real smouldering classic-in-waiting.
Both 'Weightless & Easy' and 'September' ensure the quality control remains high. Yes, both of these mix and match chiming guitars with autumnal melancholia and edge (the latter especially really lives up to the golden Fall season beautifully) but both have surprises up their sleeve whether they be blasts of backwards-masking ('Weightless & Easy') or 'September'"s super-seductive vibrato guitar part.
The dreamy and gentle postscript, meanwhile, is provided by 'Oblivion Shines' where the acoustic guitars comes out in force for the first time and the ghost of Elliott Smith again smiles benignly. It takes in a lovely chromatic piano manoeuvre and ends with the strings swelling and caressing: the perfect stately finale to a very promising debut indeed.