Originally calling their blossoming music collaboration Counting Crows Pt. 2, Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott promptly changed the name after a friend sarcastically suggested that Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. would be a good choice. Never taking themselves too seriously, the Detroit duo employs their carefree nature and sense of humor to craft infectiously fun indie pop songs. Their first full-length, It’s A Corporate World, established their ear for saccharine hooks and expert pop songwriting. On sophomore LP The Speed of Things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. takes the Motown influence and ’60s pop melodies and ramps up the electronics.
Collaborating again with producer Ben West, The Speed of Things is bigger, more ambitious, and more adult than the offerings on their debut LP. Though It’s A Corporate World was a strong debut chock-full of memorable ditties, it seems understated compared to The Speed of Things. After repeated listens, studio flourishes reveal themselves and add to what seemed like straightforward pop songs, as in the click-clack drums and carefree whistles on “Dark Water”, or the distorted sound of a crowd yelling on rocker “Hiding”.
The album opens with “Beautiful Dream”, a breezy, mid-tempo track full of hazy harmonies and looping synths, which leads into Run”, the most memorable number on the album and an obvious candidate for a future single due to its explosive, joyous chorus. In the same way that their debut album poached songs from their strong Horse Power EP, The Speed of Things features a few songs taken from an EP released earlier this year. One of these is the album’s lead single, the bouncy, synth-driven “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On The Dancefloor)”. Also like its predecessor, the album is divided by a distracting interlude, “Beautiful Dream (Reprise)”. Despite such a misstep, penultimate ballad “A Haunting” shows a different side of the band, one that displays catharsis not found in their lighter material.
Epstein and Zott’s voices effortlessly blend, warranting Beach Boys comparisons; they both demonstrate range and a knack for ear-candy harmonies on tracks like the Beatles-influenced “Knock Louder” and the triumphant, saxophone-laden closer, “War Zone”. Though the compositions at times straddle the line between detailed and busy, on the whole, The Speed of Things is a seamless, competent, and lighthearted pop release.
Essential Tracks: “Run”, “A Haunting”, and “War Zone”