After pushing play and listening for a few minutes, XOXOX will have somehow created a time machine while you weren’t looking and subsequently placed you back in the mid ’90s. Trances Arc recalls an alt-rock/pop sound that will have you checking twice to see if you aren’t actually listening to early Better Than Ezra tracks.
While some might see a return to ’90s music as a risky and potentially boring decision, my analysis of their anachronistic sound is not meant to be taken as an insult. Their music is similar to the better of the catchy jams you would hear on the radio back around that time – a summertime feel, hanging with friends, inoffensive but not silly, your-whole-life-is-still-ahead-of-you-so-just-have-fun type of rock. You know, the good old days.
But while Trances Arc clearly has an older sound, it somehow feels fresh. Or perhaps, refreshing. In a time when listening to the radio is consistently a bad idea, Trances Arc has put together a collection of radio-friendly songs that will have you wishing stations would play them instead of Nickelback’s latest dud.
What makes Trances Arc more interesting is their determination to make catchy songs that are also good. There are plenty of songs out there that are memorable, but that is not necessarily a good thing. XOXOX is filled with tunes that you will both remember and not hate.
“New Style,” the album’s opener, gives a good taste for what is coming. The intro of the song reveals ambient bells, similar to Broken Social Scene’s intro in You Forgot It in People, before leading into a soft guitar line and Eric Toledo’s quivering vocals. It’s a nice start that should appeal to both music snobs and casual listeners alike.
From “New Style” the album moves into a set of similarly paced tracks with more fun hooks and choruses.
“Birds Collide” injects a little urgency into the mix and yields positive results, while in “Tell Me Where You’re Going” Toledo decides to change up the vocal styling for the verse and ends up bringing out one of the best choruses on the album.
“Cold Drivers” is the piano ballad anthem – a welcome change in style after crossing the album’s halfway point – that doesn’t come off as gimmicky even though all of its ingredients say it should.
But the album isn’t perfect. While it doesn’t fall apart at the end, it does start to feel a little bit stale. They’re very comfortable in their own sound, but at times it feels more like they’re trapped.
In short, everything starts to sound the same. Individual hooks and choruses can be distinguished from one another, but for the most part the songs never really branch out.
When the songs do branch out, the results are somewhat iffy.
The tremolo effect included in “In You’re Out” provides for a cool intro, but the song leads to one of the less pleasing choruses. The acoustic “Look Up” has the band with suitable instrumentation that is enjoyable to listen to, but unfortunately the song feels overly sappy.
But these little nitpicks don’t ruin the fun that Trances Arc has done a great job of creating. 3.5 stars are well deserved for these sing-along tunes. It’s the kind of music that you and your significant other can agree on.