A few years ago, Kinney joined up with Walt Craven, one of the mainstays of the Portland rock scene. Craven’s come close to the big time twice before, with Gouds Thumb and 6gig. But it’s his collaboration with Kinney (and guitarist Ted Warner and bassist Dan Walsh) that, to these ears, has the greatest chance of putting them and Portland on the map.
The band is called Lost on Liftoff. Their new album is called The Brightside, and it’s a quick burst of tightly-controlled modern rock, explosive and melodic and well-crafted and fun. It’s the follow-up to their full-length debut, Mixtape Blackouts, and while I found their consistency of style somewhat tiring over 13 tracks, it’s perfect over eight. The Brightside runs a trim 30:59, and every song is a winner. It’s like a midnight bombing run – blow some shit up, get out quickly.
In my world, the second track, “All That Love,” is a hit. Craven has never sounded better than he does here – I’ve always been a fan of his tough yet emotional voice, and it’s made for songs like this. The chorus is huge and wonderful, the kind of thing I would go hoarse singing along with at shows. As good as that song is, my favorite here is “The Day the Sun Forgot to Rise.” That one's a rocket ride, opening with a killer riff and segueing into a powerhouse chorus. Just listen to Kinney on this one – he’s a superb drummer, but he’s always delivering exactly what the song needs, and no more. A lesser drummer would have cluttered up this song, but Kinney’s just the right level of awesome here.
-Andre Salles, Tuesday Morning 3 a.m.
By the end of Mixtape Blackouts, the much-awaited full-length debut from Lost on Liftoff, I'm hoarse, exhausted, and not a little emotionally drained. This is a huge album, where every song delivers a powerhouse chorus, soaring guitars, crashing cymbals, and booming bass. Assuming you have the standard amount of self-consciousness most people possess, you may not want to listen to this in mixed company, for fear of finding yourself singing along so strenuously the veins are popping from the sides of your neck and that cute couple your gal wants you to make friends with suddenly thinks you're a total psycho.
It's rock and roll for the children of the me generation. Where our parents' rock was full of bravado and chick-bagging, today we get giant walls of sound buffeting us with admissions like "I'm the one that failed you." "Maybe You're Right" is a terrific tune of self-awareness, opening with a warm glow of understanding guitars and finishing with a chorus that's emotionally wide open: "It makes me feel that there's something wrong/There's no need to fight."
Back in the 1980s, this kind of thing was done with synthesizers, rhinestones, and really bad haircuts (okay, everyone's hair was bad in the '80s), as proven by the wonderfully apropos "Don't Change" cover that comes at song 12 here. The INXS track was originally released in 1982, with Michael Hutchence and company's horribly named Shabooh Shoobah (really, what drugs were they on?), and was the kind of track that iTunes will say is similar to "In a Big Country" or World Party. But Lost on Liftoff completely own it, and with lyrics like "Don't change for you/Don't change a thing for me," you'd never know they didn't write it along with the other 12 songs of loves lost, found, and somewhere in between.
And how many of their fans were even alive in 1982?
Speaking of fans, those of Lost on Liftoff's self-titled debut EP of early 2006 will get a little deja vu from the inclusion of "40 Miles" and "Naked and Wasted" here, but it should be a pleasant experience. Both are among the best singles I've heard on the local scene in the past five years (LoL frontman Walt Craven e-mailed me "40 Miles" in 2005 and it got about 500 plays in the Phoenix offices before the band had even played a show).
The new single, "Learning How to Say Goodbye," lives up to those high standards. Shane Kinney opens the track with martial drums above ambient guitars and behind Craven's vocals: "You know I can't take this anymore/Things we know but we could not change/I shouldn't promise you anything, and everything." The chorus, "For the rest of our lives, we'll remember this moment," makes me wonder when rock has ever been this nostalgic, this vulnerable.
Even Steven Tyler's "Sweet Emotion" was a "backstage lover, set your pants on fire."
"Witness Protection Program" seems to sum up Lost on Liftoff's sound fairly succinctly, with its "waves that crash around you." The guitars are always so on, Craven paired with Nick Lambert, who does a lot of the writing, and the drums are always so open, like you could live inside them, that the result is often that feeling like you just stood up after body-surfing, turned around, and got belted in the face with a wave you didn't see coming. You're not scared, because you know the ocean floor is right under your feet somewhere, but you're totally disoriented in a pleasant weightlessness. "What if we could fall into the open atmosphere?," Craven wonders. Well, exactly.
But 13 singles don't make an album. Luckily, Lost on Liftoff provide a fulcrum with the five-minute-plus "I Can Hear You in Stereo" as track seven, a collection of movements, the first a kind of underwater ballad ending with a closely mic'd Craven getting all quiet before a crescendo into the chorus. The "stereo" is reflected in the echoing of the vocals in the verses (and the echoing of Headstart!'s "Boy Who Died in Stereo"). They switch gears again later, with track 10's "You Idiot" featuring a spoken vocal style from Craven you haven't heard before, and an indie rock vibe like the Essex Green on steroids.
An upbeat record that never sounds manic, a thoughtful record that never gets sappy, Mixtape Blackouts is surprising while delivering everything you'd expect of a band with Lost on Liftoff's pedigree. "Goodbye Summertime"? No. Summer's just starting.