Take the fresh California sound of Eve 6, mature it a couple of years, and Stroke 9 is born. But, with its latest release, Nasty Little Thoughts (Universal Records), Stroke 9 fails to produce anything unique.
The San Francisco-based rock band of Luke Esterkyn (lead vocals, guitar), John McDermott (lead guitar, vocals) and Greg Gueldner (bass) began its pop-rock semi-ska style in high school. The band started off as a senior class project, but when the members went to college the band became a series of inconsistent rendezvous until after graduation. Eric Stock (drums) didn’t join the group until two years ago.
The first single from Nasty Little Thoughts is the best representation of the band’s abilities – slow melodic harmonization moving right into heavy guitar and word twisting. “Washin’ and Wonderin'” uses latent anger and takes it out on the guitar and the lyrics: “And I wanna shout at the top of my lungs/But oh my God, if she hears me she’ll come running in…/These are my hands, these are my faults/These are my plans and these are my nasty little thoughts/I wrote `em down for you to contemplate.”
This band can boast about its honesty. It has a way of getting inside an ordinary person and expressing feelings everyone goes through at some time – frustration, desperation, ambivalence. In “Tail of the Sun,” Stroke 9 does just that. “I’ve never had the propensity to work, breed and die/I prefer to spend mine on the fly/The be’ers got to be and the fle’ers got to flee/But as for me, well… don’t worry about me.” This song falls into a genre similar to the surf music from the early 1960s, except the band is singing about the absence of the sun and what happens as a result.
The eighth song on the album, “Not Nothin’,” has more of a ska feel to it. The guitar work is more staccato, as are the lyrics, but the band’s ambivalence in regard to style hurts this song. This combination of a straight pop style and a ska beat comes off sounding forced and out-of-place among the other pop melodies.
It’s so hard for a band to define itself among the cornucopia of twentysomething rockers looking to make it big, and this album doesn’t help Stroke 9 advance itself in that respect. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the album. The instrumentals and vocals are in full force, but there is not any identifying factor that can be gleaned from Nasty Little Thoughts that helps define Stroke 9’s sound. Stroke 9 is digging itself into a hole of one-hit wonders, and it will have a hard time getting out of that hole.