The initial point of interest for Free Energy’s Stuck On Nothing is that LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy produced the Philadelphia band’s first full-length LP. Aside from that generally important if not superficial detail, the band has a sound that even without the hand of the dance-punk lord gently guiding it along is equal parts hard to categorize and one long, gleeful road trip down rock’s music last 30-some-odd years.
It’s abundantly clear with a lot of their song titles and their band name in general, they’re going for a much more ‘late 60s commune vibe (without being too hippie about it). That level of sheer positivity is abundantly clear throughout the album, especially in that each track maintains a joyous, upbeat swing. But they’re not total flower kids; the synth line in “Light Love” is the definition of finding a groove, albeit in the band’s own pace, and “Hope Child” breaks down and builds up in the weirdest ways imaginable, with the only constant being a transcendental chorus of voices. And a track like “Bang Pop” takes that singing to the Universe vibe, with each instrument informing the call back of the other, and forges it into a blazing pop gem.
Undoubtedly, you’ll hear comparisons to Thin Lizzy (specifically on the mellowed out jammer “Psychic Lightning”, the guitar dominated “Free Energy” and the bigger-than-life bass thump of “Bad Stuff”) and even The Strokes (as with the lonely ballad turned musical kaleidoscope that is “Wild Wind” and “Dark Trance”, the near-perfect Strokes copy that burns out with way more emotion then the NY lads could muster). And rightfully so, but they’re not ones to dwell; they take the music in their own direction, completely unafraid of being over the top or playing it right in line with their idols. The magic of Free Energy is they give you those nostalgic pings without making you feel like something’s being rehashed for the sake of unearthing those beloved musical memories.
Lyrically though, they kind of shine as well. Each of the songs is in the vein of a well-established genre, specifically of the boy meets girl-kind, and every wondrous yet painful feeling and experience that stems thereafter. However, they make it intelligent, insightful, and universally applicable, with lots of creative twists and outright confessionals, all combined with the ease of pure sugar-coated poetry. With a song like “All I Know”, the band highlights specifically downtrodden lyrics with strings and backward guitar, emphasizing the deep heartbreak that fills the entire song. On the other hand, “Dream City” stands tall as a beacon of pure saccharine, though with just as much depth: “When the stars are shining brighter/when your heart is beating lighter/when you love without desire/then you know who you are.”
It’d be easy to call this band a fan of too many genres — lots of ’70s/arena rock alongside some very shiny and well composed pop that’s been treated to a punk sensibility — but they’re so much more than that. For instance, they’re fans of guitar solos, unabashedly declaring their love for simplistic rock music that commands, at the very least, some enthused head nodding. But they also make little decisions that inform the listener of a much deeper musical worldview. Take the saxophone, for example, which appears on more than a couple of tracks. They’re unashamed to explore sounds most bands have avoided and those compositions break through the ambient noise and heavy synths of other acts to paint a colorful and energetic landscape of sheer, giddy fun.