There is nothing very unusual about Chomsky, not a single thing that should catch your eye or ear right away, just four guys playing pop songs on guitars, drums, and bass. Right. Got it. Line forms to the left. At first, it's all too easy to assume that you could find 50 more groups just like it onstage every weekend somewhere between Commerce and Elm, and 50 others waiting to take their places. Maybe that's why the band -- singer-guitarist Sean Halleck, drummer Matt Kellum, bassist James Driscoll, and guitarist Glen Reynolds -- is too often overlooked, only thought of when an afterthought fades from memory. And Chomsky doesn't really do anything different, except for one thing: It does it better. The setup is typical, but the delivery is exceptional, like a pitcher who throws nothing but fastballs and still manages to strike out the side. Few bands are able to wring more out of the tried-and-tired formula, make more fresh bread out of stale crumbs.
Chomsky's debut proves that no gimmick can match good songs and a band that knows how to play the hell out of them. It's a shiny coat of paint on a house that's been deserted for far too long, power pop that doesn't lean too hard on the latter while ignoring the former. Of course, the only innovation on the disc hasn't been new in a few decades: The seesawing synths, heard on tracks such as "2 Steps" (courtesy of Jet frontman Hop Manski), stolen out of the trunks of the abandoned Cars that Ric Ocasek and Gary Numan used to drive. But this isn't some Matt Sharp homage: The songs on A Few Possible Selections would be right at home 20 years ago or 20 years from now, yet they sound best right now, leading with guitars and following with their heart.
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A Few Possible Selections only picks up speed as it runs through its 10 songs, not stopping until Halleck and the group find out what they "Need to Know" accompanied by Kellum's pounding backbeat. It's the kind of album XTC left outside of a concert hall somewhere a while back, when Andy Partridge decided life began with string quartets instead of at the hop -- smart in all the right places, energetic everywhere else. Usually, it's both: "Road" melds the basslines from Devo's "Girl You Want" and the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated," then finds the new new wave somewhere in between the two, right around the syncopated "oh-ohoh-oh" chorus. "Song for Girls" sounds like just that, a sweet and tender love song -- at least through the first verse. And it is a love song, just not as sweet or tender as it seems, with its not-so-veiled references to, uh, getting it on, especially Halleck's promise to "shoot you with [his] gun." The song sums up the rest of the album, and maybe the band as well: If you don't pay close enough attention, you'll miss more than you think.