On Laverne’s eponymous debut cassette, released last weekend via Dumpster Tapes, the Chicago garage-boys spin self-pity into pure power-pop joy. A rock solid rhythm section ballasts frontman Cory Clifford and his Costello-esque croons of lust, malaise, and foundering relationships. The dour subject matter here is neutralized by its soaring melodies and bobbing beats, its professions of apathy betrayed by Clifford’s delight in language, which gives us lines like, “What’s on the other side of life? / A sliced banana that’s rotted nicely / Precisely what you’d expect” (from opener “A Sad Sad Chap”) or this one from “21st Century”: “We’re casting insults and trolls, setting them free like doves / We’re living in the 21st century with no skies above.”

Almost all of these songs are painted with the same brush (closer “Buttons” notwithstanding), and they have similar trajectories, ramping up with infectious melodies and dissolving into a wild noise-solo or tempo shift for climax––but it’s effective, and Laverne have more than enough tricks up their sleeves to keep it fresh and exciting: take the false intro to “Monster of Love,” which could soundtrack a Bond film set in the alleys of the Windy City; or the ensuing John Lennon scream on the song’s chorus; or the straight-on boogie-woogie tempo explosion on the end of “Tenterhooks.” And it all comes back to Clifford’s maudlin charm: “I’ve got such a large palate for love, but my heart is much too small / I can’t stomach big love at all.”

In their short time as a band, Laverne have developed a distinctive and articulate voice in a garage rock scene that can often feel bloated and redundant. Their concerns aren’t unique (and that’s part of the point: “Unique sadness, unique hurt / builds and builds ’til it breaks the buttons on your shirt,” a solemn Clifford intones on “Buttons”), but their voice is. The band’s musicianship is a cut above, and their humble sense of humor feels new and true: it struts and stumbles and glances around, chuckling to keep up appearances.

Laverne by Laverne

Laverne’s debut album is available in digital and on cassette via Dumpster Tapes.

Photo by Jim Vondruska.