Before "indie rock" was a meaningless marketing term, it was a specific style of music — a scrappy mid-to-late-'80s byproduct of existing styles (hardcore, college rock, and pop-punk) crashing into one another, a sound that none of its practitioners would cop to ("I don't think of our band as 'indie rock' ... we're just a rock band"), and, finally, a style of music that loved to appropriate older, long-defunct movements or then-current but disparate trends. It jumped into bed and had its way with techno, metal, hardcore, free jazz, blues, and power-pop.
The last is a no-brainer, as a lot of indie-rock was often a few adjustments away from sounding like traditional '70s power-pop anyway. The two core materials were already there: the giant hook and the song structure's forward propulsion. Washington, D.C.'s Title Tracks isn't just some indie-rock appropriation of power-pop, but the band's sound does bear a striking resemblance to such indie power-poppers as the New Pornographers' Carl Newman and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists.
Title Tracks is essentially a vehicle for John Davis, formerly one-half of the one-off duo Georgie James but perhaps better known by some as the drummer/vocalist for D.C.'s restless Q and Not U. Forming in 1998 and releasing their Dischord debut, No Kill No Beep Beep, in 2000, Q and Not U was one of those bands that could be all over the place while simultaneously staying within certain stylistic boundaries. And they sounded distinctly D.C. Q and Not U was like a power-pop take on D.C. hardcore staple Fugazi or a Dismemberment Plan without the Talking Heads fixation. Q and Not U's use of clean, upfront yelped-sung vocals made them very much a band of their time. The band worked hard at it, releasing three full-length albums before breaking up mid-decade. Their final album, Power (2004), is worth seeking out, as the band was finding itself musically but coming apart internally — usually the formula for a great album.
Davis then formed Georgie James with Laura Burhenn. Seventies singer-songwriter and glam references were thrown about as influences, but the duo's uncanny similarity to the New Pornographers was inescapable. Georgie James was not necessarily a dynamic entity, however, while Title Tracks is about as airtight and instrumentally defined as contemporary power-pop can get.
On the "band"'s new debut album, It Was Easy, Davis played every instrument then farmed out these duties to friends for touring and video-shoot needs. This is quite impressive, as a great deal of skill and care went into building these 11 tracks, even the two covers (Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher Than the Rest" and Gene Clark's beautiful Byrds moment, "She Don't Care About Time").
Title Tracks' MySpace page, along with other promotional materials, is conspicuously devoid of any post-1990 references (or artists that did their best, if any, work after 1990) in terms of influence. Of course, an artist can influence another artist in ways that are not easily heard or seen, and I suspect that's where the inclusions of Bad Brains, Skeeter Davis, Chet Baker, and Booker T & the MGs originate. But this is still misleading, as this band's real roots are more modern. The first sign of this comes via the vocal style, in which the hook and repeated melodies are often delivered in a rapid-fire, almost spoken-sung fashion that is exclusively a '90s/'00s development, one perfected several years ago by Rob Crow/Pinback and done in a unique manner by all three vocalists in the New Pornographers. It should be mentioned that the Bruce Springsteen cover takes on a distinct Chris Bell feel (though Big Star/Alex Chilton/Bell are not mentioned as influences, oddly).
Big Star is mentioned in most critical assessments of Davis' previous band, Georgie James, so Davis is probably sick of reading it. It's all what you do with the source material, and Davis does make it his own by eschewing the quirkiness of the New Pornographers'/Newman's songwriting style. There is the above-mentioned debt owed to Ted Leo, probably a friend of Davis', given the shared regional origins and the fact that Q and Not U toured with Leo. Leo's cathartic, urgent vocal delivery is also adopted by Davis on several tracks.
All in all, the material on It Was Easy is catchy from start to finish, wavering from suitably so to unforgettably so. And just because the music is derivative of contemporaries doesn't mean that Davis flat-out thieved hooks from anyone. By virtue of the hooks, these are Davis' songs, and a song with a great hook is the hardest form of rock/pop-based music to write. So It Was Easy was, in fact, not easy at all.