It’d be pretty easy to resent these carpetbagging Brits on grounds of blatant musical mimicry. The spirits of the Posies’ Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow loom large in the harmonies of “I Know Without Asking”, while the power-pop punch of Matthew Sweet leaves its calling card on “Visible From Space”. Every element of “Lost In The Details”, from the melody to the arrangement to the vocal, is an absolute ringer for erstwhile Scud Mountain Boys leader Joe Pernice. And “Choked Up” is more than merely reminiscent of Ryan Adams’ poppier moments: It’s actually a cover of an Adams tune recorded for Whiskeytown’s long-lost Pneumonia album.
The thing is, it’s hard to begrudge any band that can make a pop record as genuinely listenable as this one. Though Road Movies is at times derivative to its detriment, the overall impression it leaves is a radiant glow of tuneful songcraft, buoyed by beautiful harmonies, rolling rhythms, and the kind of sonic consistency one would expect from producer T Bone Burnett.
The four lads, who relocated to Los Angeles in 1999, also deliver a few magnificent original songs that reach beyond the obvious aforementioned influences. “Holiday From Myself” is an ideal opening track, three minutes of instantly memorable sing-along sweetness spiked ever so slightly sour in the chorus. The title track treads a considerably grander landscape, five minutes of California dreaming highlighted by richly layered vocals. And “Sheer Volume Of Traffic” is one of those masterful mood pieces where the cadence of the chorus chant is in absolute sync with the music.
And, in all honesty, the Whiskeytown cover is really a brilliant move. “Choked Up” is a perfect pop song, and while Minibar’s version is nearly a carbon-copy of the original, the mere fact that they recorded it shows they’ve got their ears on — and that those ears are quite sharp.