Album Review: Crossword Smiles — Pressed & Ironed

Breezy, tuneful and possessing enough grit to set the music apart from standard-issue power poppers, Crossword Smiles craft solid, memorable tunes. The arrangements are uncluttered on these guitar-based riff rockers. Soaring vocal harmonies of the dual-lead variety figure in many of the songs; the music is carefully assembled and delivered in a heartfelt manner.

The group (really Tom Curless and Chipper Saam plus guests) has a pleasing sonic character throughout Pressed & Ironed, and Curless and Saam – who co-write all of the material – have a good sense of variety built into their craft. “This Little Town” is built around Rod Capps’ violin and viola, but it still rocks, and it fits nicely into the mix.

Melancholia finds its way into the album at several points, most notably on “October Leaves.” The duo’s thoughtful songwriting provides the kind of emotional heft that’s sometimes absent from the always-grinning type of rock outfits that dot the musical landscape. Crossword Smiles rarely sounds explicitly like another group, though the familiar beat and electric piano textures of “Parallel Lines” will immediately bring to mind the Zombies. “The Girl With a Penchant for Yellow” has a vaguely Who-like feel, especially in its Curless’ drumwork on the intro), but the brief song itself leans more toward Merseybeat (with a bit of ELO-ish Vocoder).

Shimmering acoustic guitars dominate on “Where’s the Sense” and “Walk Softly.” And power-chording electric guitar characterizes “Lotus.” The point being that Crossword Smiles never, ever write the same song twice, or use the same arrangement ideas twice. There’s a definite cohesiveness to the ten songs – they truly sound like they belong together on an album – but variety remains at the core of what this outfit does.

Pressed & Ironed is as tidy a collection as its title suggests; it’s a winner.