The Sidekicks had already moved through several stages of evolution when they first blasted my face at a Columbus basement show a few years back during the lead-up to 2012’s Awkward Breeds. After starting out in Cleveland as ebullient teenage punks channeling Against Me! and winning widespread DIY-house acclaim for their 2009 effort Weight Of Air, they had relocated to Columbus for college and were forging enthusiastically into that indefinable space between pop-punk and indie-rock inhabited by the likes of Screaming Females, Swearin’, and Tin Armor. (There was also a distinct Replacements influence, as explained here.) At that time they were starting to venture into the world of club shows, a brave new world for a band that came of age in the nation’s basements, living rooms, and VFW halls. Now they’ve taken the plunge into a different universe entirely, signing to storied punk label Epitaph for the release of Runners In The Nerved World.
Ironically, they’re arriving at the label of Bad Religion, Rancid, and Bouncing Souls with the least conventionally “punk” album of their career. The Sidekicks recorded Runners In The Nerved World with Pacific Northwest indie-rock legend Phil Ek, and many of Ek’s previous clients echo through the album’s chiming, charging music, Band Of Horses, Built To Spill, and the Shins among them. Like the voices behind those bands, Sidekicks frontman Steve Ciolek’s voice can surge from a tuneful chirp to a white-hot beam of light on demand, and his bandmates are great at providing him sonic backdrops that remain rugged even as they gleam. (It should be noted that Ciolek also plays a supporting role in Saintseneca, who between Zac Little, All Dogs’ Maryn Jones, and Ciolek, might be the underground’s greatest working songwriting all-star team.)
All this is not to say that the Sidekicks have gone soft. Tracks like “Blissfield, MI” and “Spinning Seat” are as much of a kick in the ass as the music that first sold me on this band. Even “Jesus Christ Supermalls,” the band’s attempt at a pop song, is one of those tidal waves of sound that will undoubtedly sweep crowds away at live shows, the same way they swept me away back in that basement. They’ve simply developed a better finesse game to go with all that power, and in the process they found new life in a genre I was certain had been completely tapped out. Hear the album in full below.