Download New Album: Sad Planets – Akron, Ohio
Sad Planets comes through with a brand new smashing hot and dope studio album, packed with 10 amazing and solid tracks entitled “Akron, Ohio“. Over the past decade, Patrick Carney has cemented himself as the rhythmic core of the Black Keys. While Dan Auerbach ambled outward with woolly, blues-tinged guitar riffs, Carney’s muscular pummeling rooted the songs with leaden precision. In the band’s current spell of quiet, he’s teamed up with John Petkovic, an alumnus of Guided by Voices, Death of Samantha, Sweet Apple, and Cobra Verde, to form a new project called Sad Planets. The two bonded over their love for music and mutual hometown of Akron, Ohio; together, one might suppose, the two could fashion a record that capably paired their grittier bona fides with the polish of seasoned professionals. But the pair’s debut LP, Akron, Ohio, is a gummy, overwrought mess, an insult to both its namesake and, quite possibly, rock music as a whole.
It’s hard to understand how two musicians whose résumés bear some degree of cool-rock-dude credibility managed to make such a clunker; then again, the project reeks of runaway self-indulgence. The songs on Akron, Ohio are garish, graceless, and unsubtle; at the same time, the record has an uncanny-valley-like blandness, as if an exceptionally horny bot processed a thousand hours of stuff labeled “rock music” and spat out its own attempt. Neither of the men are strong vocalists, not even in the Oberst-esque category of “bad singer but it works.” Petkovic sounds pained as he sings—not emotionally, but as if he were in serious physical distress during the recording process. When he and Carney duet on “Not of This World” and “Yesterday Girls,” it feels like a musical version of two dudes cornering a guest on their amateur podcast.
Petkovic and Carney seem desperate to transmit the idea that Akron, Ohio is a Real Rock’n’Roll Record, Damn It, yet the result is an unrepentant caricature of the genre. Their electric-guitar flexes are flaccid; occasional synths get the gleeful treatment of a kid’s new toy. The masturbatory two-minute denouement of “Bad Cells” features lackluster guitar solos that seem to exist with the sole purpose of taking up space. “Want You to Want You” follows the blueprint of an upbeat adult-alternative hit, breaking up punchy verses full of nothingness with a breezy chorus stuffed with elongated vowels, and topping it off with a gear-shift key change at the end. Though most of the songs hover around the radio-friendly sweet spot of three and a half minutes, they all seem to last an eternity. (The lines that open the album’s first track—“I just landed here/But it feels like a year ago”—make for an unfortunate self-own.) Even featured guest J Mascis, Petkovic’s Sweet Apple bandmate, does little to save the opening snoozefest.
More importantly, speaking as a woman who dates men and swoons at plenty of corny love songs: The unsexy enticements that Petkovic and Carney offer make me want to curl up and die. The songs’ primary themes revolve around wanting, nay, needing to be near a partner; to find a deeper connection with said lover despite struggling to see or hear them clearly. But their cringing attempts at come-ons make it clear that it’s the singers, and not the objects of their affection, who are to blame for their woes. In “(Falling into the Arms of A) Refugee,” Petkovic compares his infidelity to—can you guess? In “Heaven’s Devils,” there’s a line about eyes “wrapped in tender skin” that would be much better if it were about the Pale Man creature from Pan’s Labyrinth. And what woman doesn’t love being called a “helpless baby,” as on closer “Disappearing”? Surely these two adult men have interacted with real human women before, right? They make it disturbingly hard to tell.
With Akron, Ohio, Carney and Petkovic seem to be doing their best to gorge themselves on schlock-rock’s indulgences. The band’s press materials indicate that Akron, Ohio exists as a result of two good buddies hanging around the studio and seeing where the spirit takes them. But to insist that the rest of the world needs to hear their wankery is an assertion of rampant egomania, a condition they share with plenty of out-of-touch male musicians. Even in their failures, their efforts are not outstanding. Sad Planets are the latest curdled dregs of a trope that spoiled long ago. Music has always grounded the listener is space and time, sung about places real and fantastic, anchoring whoever hears it to a particular moment when the song struck them just so. But with Sad Planets’ Akron, Ohio, Sweet Apple/Cobra Verde leader John Petkovic and The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney unite to give you the exact place that inspires the feeling, exploring the familiar and the new of their hometown across the breadth of their musical knowledge.
“Just Landed” opens the album with a vintage U2 sensibility and a guitar solo that grinds like plane wheels touching the tarmac. It’s an easy landing that echoes with the latitude and longitude of Akron itself, the drive of the working-class country twang with a faint brush of that Midwestern punk sound. Later on, “Want You To Want You” reverses this sound, more The Replacements than Bono, and the results – with a fantastic synthesizer added to keep things contemporary – are not unlike the feeling of standing on an empty road and staring west, convinced you can see all the way to Nebraska, perhaps beyond.
But the album doesn’t shy away from electronic flourishes and avant-garde sounds. “Not of This World” takes its musical cues from The Who with a hammering guitar line and lyrics spit like typewriter keys before opening into a slow wash of synthesizers. Meanwhile, “Bad Cells” distorts Petkovic voice to a narcotic sneer, but unlike “Not of This World,” the song wears out its welcome by the three-minute mark. “City Ghosts,” muffles his vocals and marches the guitar to a rain-slick noir sound, complete with a synthetic Theremin effect. It might seem corny, but it works.
For all of the wild stretches of sound that the album plays with, it’s remarkably cohesive, threaded with the endless-highway drive that peaks on the penultimate track, “Heaven’s Devils.” It’s the album’s wildest, most rollicking track, rubber on road, racing the ghosts and the girls that have populated the album up until now. Carney’s drumming peaks here, deliciously threatening to thunder out of control. Take your headphones off after this track and you might just find that your hair has been blown back by the wind-sound of Petkovic’s layered guitars.
Akron gave us Devo, Chrissie Hynde, The Cramps and Carney’s own uncle, the late saxophonist Ralph Carney, all musicians who took wildly different sounds from the streets of their industrial city. Sad Planets continues this trend, updating and paying homage to the city that binds them. With muddy vocals pleading, “Please say something…” “Disappearing,” leaves the listener homesick for a place they might never have been, but now, feels almost like home. This is the kind of song(s) you wouldn’t want to miss on your playlist.
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