Tao Waves from Philly

                A couple of weeks ago I came across The Tao of Wu by RZA and read it in a clean sweep with only short, spastic breaks for cigarettes and High Life. Life often packs information together with other things so you can assemble some sort of coherent picture together, and after digesting to Free Energy’s Stuck on Nothing with the aforementioned cigarettes and High Life, I realized this band embodies a tao of their own: pure, boundless sonic energy. Today’s scene is contaminated with ocean annihilating oil spills, polarizing political partisanship, celebrity worship, the corporate dictum of unaccountability  and countless threats from jihadist organizations. We need a shift to center, to embrace a new tao, if we want to survive in this wasteland of modern America. These Philly natives offer a path.

                When listing the influences for the albumin an online interview, front man Paul Sprangers rattled off The Cars, AC/DC, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and 80’s commercial jingles. Stuck on Nothing uses these guides to forge a fresh brand of anthemic, yet meaningful pop meshed with a kick ass classic rock vibe, which means it is straightforward and seeks to invigorate. A plethora of clapping and sing-a-long choruses (see “Bang Pop”) don’t belittle or simplify the tracks but only add to their appeal. Whenever I find myself wielding an air guitar while offering complex percussion beats with both my feet, I can assuredly say that I am enjoying the music I am listening to. And whenever I hear a song intro that conjures up images of Spoon jamming stoned as bananas (see “Young Hearts”), I am impressed with the music I am listening to.

                The opening lick “Free Energy” gives us some insight into the tao of the band, and is aptly labeled as their flagship track. Sprangers voice invites anyone nearby to join in and pump fist, even at a first listen when you don’t know the words but are moved purely by his urgency. He wails, “I’m so disconnected, I’m never gonna check back in.” How many twenty somethingers (myself included), weighed down by a tens of thousands in college loans, feel like they got duped in high school by buying into the “American dream?” Forget the bleak future of bailouts and bullshit sales jobs, Spranger urges us to enjoy the simple moments of rock n roll in our lives while we still can.

                There is a sense of youthful despair, an atmosphere of being overwhelmed by the times in parts of the album. In “Bad Stuff,” Spranger says, “They’ll come a time when its different, but not today,” and the song shifts into a dark instrumental after the lines, “Your sons are dead now prepare to fight/ Well there’s no consolation.” You want the initial rush of chords you heard earlier to come back, but everything fades into the distance and there is indeed no relief. Sprangers does give us an answer, however. “Hope Child” pleads for the listener to continue on and comforts him/her by promising, “And I want you to remember, child/We broadcast hope/When there’s nothing left/Nothin’s clear /And nowhere feels like home/Well, you’re not alone.” All for one.

                A sense of easy living comes with a nugget like “Light Love,” which would have been a great addition to the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack. You don’t know whether to grab a surfboard, a Molotov cocktail, or a sand spackled beach beauty, but nevertheless you reach for something. It shows the thematic complexity of this song and the album as a whole. Since you don’t know if it’s about making love or throwing a coup de tat, another listen is required. Taking a classic rock sound and making it accessible to today’s listener can be challenging, but Sprangers provides plenty of relatability to accompany Free Energy’s catchy riffs. They are able to reincarnate the rock n roll atmosphere of the early 70’s when the counterculture was fresh in the head of the American youth, and they do so with a fresh energy, to be ridiculously cliché.

                The album closes with a bang, not a pop. The keyboard intro to “Wild Winds” is sexy like “Hey Jude,” and it builds, crests, and obliterates any cerebral auditory centers it encounters. Lyrically, this song is an incredible piece of poetry. It beckons the youth, it demands their attention, and mobilizes their energy. There is love, there is war, there is destiny, and there is a search into the beyond. “Maybe it’s time to question our eyes, and answer our hearts.” Wow. This song provides a strong reason to believe in this band and to hope music may have a new voice to sound the revolution. I’ll keep my light on, you do the same.


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