In the heyday of the British Invasion, the pop charts were crowded with bands that played high-octane pop tunes as sharp as the suits worn by the band members. Nowadays, it's about as easy to find a band playing pop rave-ups as it is to find one in matching suits. Trying to fill both voids are the Hi-Fives. A quartet from the San Francisco Bay Area who play "beat punk", a blend of pop and punk that immediately brings to mind the music of the British Invasion and garage rock era. Their third release, "Get Down!", is closer to the pop side of the equation than previous recordings, but the punk element is present in the rapid fire guitar playing and no-frills instrumentation.
The band's nucleus is the singing/guitar playing/ songwriting team of Chris Imlay and John Denery, and the rhythm section consists of new recruits Gary Gutfeld on drums and Stephen Faine on bass. As a band they play like a fine tuned machine doing its job fast and with economy. The majority of the songs are under two and a half minutes and all deal with the same subject: girls. The album begins with a razor sharp guitar ripping through the opening chords of "I'd Be so Pleased." Setting the pace for the rest of the album, the song is a frothy pop tune whipped up to a frenzy existing firmly between the Ramones and the Beatles.
The second cut, "Conversations Like These", displays a slower chunkier rhythm and the wit John and Chris often inject into the lyrics. John ponders what his girlfriend means when she tells him, "I can't get it off with a mop." By song's end, he's not even speaking in English, and begins expressing his frustration in Spanish. "Won't Take Much" is the other side of the coin, in which John and the young lady are so obviously made for each other they "don't got much of a chore" to "fall so deep in love."
Musically, "Won't Take Much" can be described as the typical Hi-Fives song: it is a fast and furious pop song, which the band plows through steadily without changing tempo and only includes one short instrumental break. This formula is utilized in each song, but usually some slight variation is incorporated. "She Is the One" demonstrates changes in intensity, while "When You Destroy Our Love " and "Back Again" have slow beginnings and build to a forceful chorus. "Cat and Comb" and "Contemplating Coups" feature multiple guitar breaks, which create a start/stop feeling to the rhythm. The very popish "In the Meantime Please Don't Leave" features a bridge and a very cool piano solo.
The one area where the Hi-Fives could stand some improvement is in the vocals. Their stripped down musical arrangements create a need for strong vocals to act as a focus, and neither Chris nor John is able to consistently fill that need. John, who handles lead on a slight majority of the songs, has a sweet sounding voice, but it's too thin. His strongest performance is on "Back Again", which contains some sparse subdued moments allowing John's voice to become more prominent, and the texture of his voice matches the humbled quality of the lyrics. Chris's voice has the depth and contains a gruffness I appreciate, but lacks conviction. He just needs to be more forceful, as he is when in "I'd Be so Pleased" he spits out the line "I've got this funny feeling and it isn't the flu." The line sticks in your head more readily than the often repeated chorus/title.
A casual listener, or someone simply glancing at the old fashioned styled cover, might dismiss the Hi-Fives as a retro novelty act. But that casual listener or glancer would be missing out on a really cool record. Only the track "Black Sand Beach", a too close to the Ventures sounding instrumental, comes off as lightweight retro. The rest of the album is a powerful and delightful fusion of mid-60's pop and modern lo-fi D.I.Y. punk. With some added strength to the vocals there is no reason this band couldn't follow in the footsteps, success-wise, of former labelmates Green Day.