Those who focus too heavily on history are doomed to overestimate it. Witness Koufax, which joins American Analog Set and KaitO at the Larimer Lounge on Sunday, June 29. Given that the group was initially championed by the Get Up Kids -- an act linked to the term "emo" like Chang was connected to Eng -- and subsequently signed to Vagrant, whose lineup is heavy with bands that are stylistically joined at the hip, it's got to specialize in standard-issue pop-punk ditties filled with navel-gazing lyrics, right? And yet Social Life, the quartet's latest CD, is driven as much by keyboards as by guitars, and while there are certainly emotions on display, they come at the ear in croons more often than cries.
That's not to say the album is wimpy and introspective, a sop to the Justin Guarini set. "Break it Off," for example, pivots on a ragged yet tuneful vocal by frontman Robert Suchan, who puts genuine punch behind words whose sarcasm doesn't make them feel any less sincere: "Stop taking advice from your family/They've never been right on anything." Six-string noises courtesy of Suchan turn up as well, and drummer Dave Shettler's pounding is more than capable of rattling molars. If the other principal ingredients -- a syncopated piano, a slithery synthesizer -- tilt the tune in a somewhat more traditional direction, they never succumb to the middlebrow pretensions of the Ben Folds Five. The instruments may be the same as those employed by Holiday Inn tinklers, but the tune itself would make the average Shriner flip his fez.
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The arrangements of tunes like "Saturdays Alone," which manages to be jaunty and mopey at the same time, and "So Put On," whose upbeat message is "In time, revenge will be healing," are consistently clever without being twee. As a bonus, Suchan exhibits a sense of humor that's deliciously sly and frequently surprising; the protagonist of "Adultery" isn't felled by discovering that his significant other is a married mother of two, because, he cheerfully announces, he's "never been a moral man." Such confessions don't fit the emo mold, and despite its pedigree, neither does Koufax. But never let the facts get in the way of a good album.