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Since forming in 2004, Ohio rock band Smug Brothers have enjoyed a relaxed, almost nonchalant, approach to writing and recording, with most albums being minor Big Bangs - instant and electric. New LP In the Book of Bad Ideas, on the other hand, was a struggle against entropy - the disorder caused by plagues and departing personnel.
Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Kyle Melton wrote the majority of the tunes in "bunker fashion" during the miserable pandemic summer of 2020, then slowly started recording them with bassist Kyle Sowash, lead guitarist Scott Tribble, and drummer/Smug Brothers co-pilot Don Thrasher in 2021. That November, his contributions partially completed, Tribble decamped the band due to a new job and new demands. The exit was amicable, yet left the group in a lead guitar lurch. Melton had little choice but to enter the ring and play solos on some songs.
"That was both fun and frustrating," Melton admits. "Other than a handful of tracks over 15 years, I've not really done much lead playing with Smug Brothers. When Scott left, I was initially like 'Great. What now?' It took me a few weeks to psyche myself up to just go for it."
Finally, belatedly, both In the Book of Bad Ideas and its sister EP Emerald Lemonade were finished in the spring of 2022. And against the odds, the two-year slog produced pleasantly surprising results. On In the Book of Bad Ideas, the band's typical, semi-60s sound - boasting biting leads and breakneck jangles - is now fully integrated with synthesizers and crafted with a cool gloss, anachronistically creating the first Smug Brothers album of the early 80s. While all songs pop with Pac-Man vibrancy, tracks such as "Helium Drag" and "Enceladus Lexicon" could be lost classics by The Cars.
As Melton reveals, "I'm not sure it was a conscious move, honestly. We've been expanding our sonic palette significantly since [2017 LP] Disco Maroon; Scott had a lot to do with that push, especially with his keyboards. I just kept running with those moves. I was thinking more in terms of a 'slicker' sound on the tracks, adding more polish and really trying to get a better overall production."
Clearly the perseverance paid off. But album highlight "What Starts Out as Fun" begs an obvious question. "Yes, it's all still fun," Melton says with a laugh. "It's just more work now. We're really pushing ourselves, exploring new approaches. We are already working on new material, so we will just keep going forward and make it up as we go. Hopefully, In the Book of Bad Ideas gets a favorable reception that can give us a good headwind into the future."