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In a just world, Song Machine, the fifth full-length album from The Exbats, which arrives via Goner Records, would become one of the most-loved and most-listened to albums of the 2020s. With the thirteen-track album, the Bisbee, Arizona-based band further their analog back-to-the-future combination of the Shangri-Las and pre-Velvet Underground doo-wop wannabe Lou Reed, churning out catchy tunes laden with buoyant choruses that rank alongside the best A-sides recorded in the shadow of the Brill Building or with the Wrecking Crew in tow. The Exbats are effortless time travelers—this time, they’ve set the dial for the early 1970s, incorporating the sonic magic of The Partridge Family, Muswell Hillbillies-era Kinks, and Brian Wilson into the crux of their musical ethos, evident on tracks like the propulsive “Riding With Paul” and “The Happy Castaway,” which bookend the album.
“What I remember about that era is going to record stores and seeing a wall of 45s that somebody was tasked with moving around [in concordance with] the Billboard charts,” says Kenny McLain, who, alongside daughter Inez, is the driving force behind The Exbats. “With our band we’re kinda moving things around on that towering wall of singles, as if it were from some sort of ancient tomb, and we’re trying to crack a code and make it to number one. So, I suppose, some magic door will open. And we’ll all be free? Or something like that.”
Inez McLain, namesake of the Monkees’ wool-capped guitarist Mike Nesmith, has played drums and sung for The Exbats since she was just ten years old. Surveying the band’s back catalog in relation to Song Machine, she adds, “I always felt like our progression is similar to that of the Kinks–starting off garage and punk and then becoming more deliberate about everything.” On this latest release, time stops altogether when Inez masterfully—and wholly unselfconsciously—evokes the remarkable harmonizing of Cher or Karen Carpenter at the height of their careers on two songs that unveil the raison d’être for The Exbats, and, thus, music lovers in general: “Singalong Tonight” and “What Can A Song Do,” which, together, anchor Song Machine while poignantly and audaciously celebrating the very act of singing itself with a sentimentality worthy of Muppets Movie-era Paul Williams. In a different world, either might inspire a viral revolution.