Could 2013 be the year of Leagues? It seems like the band’s big break has been a long time coming.
With an excellent EP in 2010, a strong live presence opening for Jars of Clay in 2011 and a freshman full-length dropping tomorrow, the band seems to be doing everything right. Its three members – Thad Cockrell, Tyler Burkum and Jeremy Lulito – have also been workhorses in years past, logging time as solo artists, key band members (yes, for you CCM fans, it’s that Tyler Burkum) and session musicians.
However, the biggest indicator of the band’s future can be found right now in “You Belong Here,” Leagues’ first full-length release. And, while the 10 tracks up for approval aren’t perfect, Leagues could have the makings of a big hit on its hands.
The press surrounding “You Belong Here” has been emphasizing the band’s message of “danceable but meaningful,” and though the “meaningful” part doesn’t always shine through, Leagues’s cascading, effortless sound is a constant throughout. You don’t need to read the liner notes to get maximum enjoyment out of the relentless bass groove of “Magic” or the joyous falsettos of the title track, and that’s just fine. “You Belong Here” is poppy fun throughout its 40 minutes, its shimmery guitars often reminiscent of an uber-accessible Strokes record and its thumping but not overpowering drums guaranteeing a strong rhythmic hook throughout.
That being said, Leagues does often balance its melodies with musings, particularly evident on album opener (and first single) “Spotlight.” “Romantic love is a fickle friend,” croons Cockrell, creating an oddly solemn juxtaposition for an album that sounds so buoyantly happy.
Yet the risk and worth of love is a topic that crops up frequently on “You Belong Here,” with “Haunted” asserting that every person is worthy of a doomed romance and album closer “Friendly Fire” contemplating emotional, rather than physical, attrition. Instead of wallowing, however, Leagues urges empathy and friendship, two traits that surely help give the album some pop.
There are a few weak spots in the album’s middle – “Lost It All” and “One Hand” are more repetitive and less bouncy than they could have been – but the overall energy of “You Belong Here” is enough to make you a Leagues believer. These songs scream “radio-ready,” but not in a cynical, manufactured way. Instead, inherent in their DNA is an earnest desire to be heard, enjoyed, and danced to.
Best Songs: “Spotlight,” “Magic,” “You Belong Here”