by Evan Jarvicks
Unimpressed with today’s wave of copy/paste software musicians, Tulsa’s Tony Romanello and the Black Jackets make a case for the days when popular music hinged on live instrumentation and patient work ethic. On Chasing Airwaves, they produce a big, compelling pop rock sound that is slicker than the average indie rock recording, yet more genuine than many of today’s Top 40 hits. At a tight eight tracks, this is Romanello’s most polished and commercial release to date.
The songs on Chasing Airwaves are the kind that rarely make use of the acoustic guitar and often showcase refrains of “whoa” and “oh.” In other words, despite the seriousness behind its creation, the band’s music is fun and lively. It carries much of the same electric dazzle as 2012’s Pleased to Meet Us, though that release was more likely to feature a guitar solo than, say, a piano riff like the one that closes out “The Start” on Airwaves. Synthesizers also make a striking new addition to the Black Jackets’ arsenal. They help the band fight the trappings of a standard guitars/drums/vocals setup.
The tracklist hammers out jam after jam, often flowing seamlessly to keep out any lulls. Despite the fact that Airwaves is largely built on typical 4/4 rock structures, Romanello and company give each just enough flavor to exhibit a range. Given the genre, all of the songs could stand to have catchier hooks, but two in particular still manage to strike gold. The first is “Elephant Gun,” a rambunctious, uptempo attack on “elephants in the room” that fittingly unleashes pent-up energy between every verse; the pre-chorus in particular brings the White Stripes to mind. The second is “Sing,” which reaches to the other side of the spectrum and delivers an emotive, anthemic stance about not remaining silent in the face of adversity.
Not all of the other songs are as memorable, but they’re carried by the momentum of the band’s performances and, in particular, Romanello’s defiant vocal delivery. His confident tone helps sell some of the more uninventive lyrics. For instance, the idioms of “closets full of skeletons” and “house of cards” take up prime real estate in the chorus to “Dogs on Television,” but for those caught up in the song’s bustling percussion and sleek vocal overdubs, the clichés won’t be of any detriment.
Worth addressing is “Extinction Radio,” where Chasing Airwaves gets its name. In the context of lines like “Traded my band for more bandwidth / Digital bits trump guitar riffs,” it’s clear that Tony Romanello and the Black Jackets see themselves as a dying breed, fighting to keep alive the school of music they represent. It’s ironic, then, that one of their more pop-leaning tracks, “The Start,” is honestly not that far removed from adult alternative mainstays like OneRepublic and The Script.
The heart of their concern, really, is that the democratization of the music industry has brought in an influx of professionals and amateurs alike, all vying for an audience. As a long-standing presence of the Tulsa music scene, Romanello has earned his stripes, yet presumably finds himself in competition with younger, less experienced acts. It’s often simply a matter of being heard over the noise. That is ultimately what this album is about, especially as much of it centers on the idea of speaking out in various ways.
Since their sound doesn’t strive to be fresh or subversive, which is one way to stand from the crowd, Tony Romanello and the Black Jackets instead focus all of their efforts on execution. In this respect, they absolutely ace it. With fine-tuned production value and seasoned performances, Chasing Airwaves is a solid collection of guitar-driven power pop, cranked up in a big way to prove that the genre is still alive and well in 2016.