Tokyo Police Club keyboardist Graham Wright made his debut as a solo artist in 2008 with The Lakes of Alberta, an EP available in a pay-as-you-want format on Bandcamp. Since then, Wright has kept busy with Tokyo Police Club’s sophomore LP, Champ, and apparently writing over 60 more songs as a solo artist. Twelve of these songs made it onto his full-length debut, Shirts vs. Skins.
Graham Wright went in a folky, acoustic direction on The Lakes of Alberta, but Shirts vs. Skins is a power pop album. Lead single and album high point “Soviet Race” is a playful romp that combines catchy guitar lines and references the Cold War, getting “shitfaced,” and giving one’s book “six points out of a possible 10.” Breaking the fourth wall in such a manner shouldn’t work, but here it does. Less successful are tracks such as the unfortunately titled opener, “Chucklefucks”, which feels like one of the album’s longest, despite its 80-second length. Wright’s storytelling on Shirts vs. Skins takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to serious situations. This use of humor feels like a coping mechanism, such as when one uses jokes as a way to deal with personal drama like a breakup. “Something Stupid” comes across as mockery under the guise of sympathy, exhibiting some surprising venom.
The brand of nostalgia on Shirts vs. Skins evokes the wave of power pop revivalism from the early naughties. Like The Lakes of Alberta EP, Graham Wright’s Shirts vs. Skins is a decidedly brief affair. The dozen songs that comprise Shirts vs. Skins clock in at less than 30 minutes, with only one track exceeding three minutes (and just barely). Brevity works in Wright’s favor, because power pop tends to lose the first half of its namesake as time progresses. Additionally, while Shirts vs. Skins is a pleasant listen with its moments of charm, its hooks largely lack the oomph to achieve the sort of infectiousness that causes entrenchment in the listener’s mind. Rather than digging in deep, these hooks merely scratch the surface.