I’m going to preface this review by outing myself as a massive fan of this band prior to even hearing this release. Ever since the reliable Tim PopKid turned me onto their debut record “Why Trains Crash” in 2018, I’ve had them on pretty regular rotation. It seems surprising to me that it’s been five years since their last full length because I still listen to it so often. Over time it’s become one of my favorite records of the last decade. In fact, when my copy of “A Company Sleeve” arrived in the mail the other day, it was none other than “Why Trains Crash” that I removed from my turntable to make room for it.
I had the pleasure of meeting these guys in person this Spring when they came through Portland. I’d interacted with Noah on Twitter a little bit, discussing J Church, and him turning me onto some great music (Church Girls and Creeper Lagoon, namely). It was such an excellent show, and they couldn’t have been nicer. Perhaps because we were both riding the euphoria of having just unexpectedly met Toody from Dead Moon moments earlier, but conversation flowed smoothly, and it was fun to talk music with someone who you enjoy their own output so much.
You might think all this enthusiasm would shatter any objectivity I have on a new record, but the flipside of that is the crushingly high expectations you have from a band whose most recent album you hold in such high esteem. The situation was ripe for a letdown. 25 seconds into it, when the lead off track “Young Gray Enemies” opens up and explodes into everything that makes The Pretty Flowers great, all concerns for a sophomore slump were alleviated.
For those of you who have been paying attention, The Pretty Flowers have been hinting at their progression as songwriters with new songs and unreleased tracks being added to their Bandcamp page. This band is also extraordinarily good at doing covers. Their version of “Doom Town” by The Wipers rips so hard, especially live. Also, although you might not think you need it, their take on Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” is one of the best covers of any song I’ve ever heard. Anyway, all the potential hinted at with the material released since “Why Trains Crash” has been realized on “A Company Sleeve”. I think I even like it better.
I hope this analogy doesn’t turn anyone off because I might be in the minority on this opinion, but the progression of The Pretty Flowers between these two albums reminds me of The Promise Ring between “Nothing Feels Good” and “Very Emergency”, the latter of which I consider to be their masterpiece. I remember how excited I was by “Very Emergency” when it came out in 1999. I loved it immediately, and remember calling my friends before I even got to the end of the first listen. That I’m able to access that same kind of evangelical excitement from a new album when I’m 44 years old with “A Company Sleeve” is pretty cool.
This record is really frontloaded with hits. Any song on side A I could see being the single. The aforementioned first track comes in at just under two minutes, but is the perfect opener. It goes from a distant muddled recording to a full blast banger, like when your headphone jack was partially unplugged and then you’d push it in all the way. It’s such a catchy tune, and that effect really puts it over the top. It’s followed up by “Another Way To Lose”, which is another absolute ripper, and just a perfect punk/power pop jam of the highest order. It briefly feels like we’re getting a break in the action with “Hit Nothing”, but the huge chorus and overall instrumentation make this another great example of what this band can do. “Baby Food” is next, which picks the tempo back up and provides the listener with not only another barn burner, but also some poignant commentary on the rental market in Los Angeles. “Bucket Beach” and “Agendaless” close out the first side, the former having rightfully been released as a single in 2021, and the latter being slower but also a definite album highlight.
Side B, much like their last record, has just as many hooks, but they tend to lay just below the surface and be a bit more subdued. “The Long Con” in particular, is maybe my current favorite song on the record. Sitting second to last, it has a nice dreamy/surfy vibe and is just unbelievably catchy. Including a few songs I haven’t mentioned by name yet, there are absolutely no skips to be found anywhere on this LP, and new things to appreciate with each passing listen.
All the other bands I’ve mentioned in this review (Promise Ring, Church Girls, Creeper Lagoon, and J Church) I can all see as worthwhile comparisons to The Pretty Flowers’ sound. I also really hear post-reunion Superchunk in the incredible layered quality of music and song structure. The songs are good, but so are all the people who are playing them. Everyone is doing something interesting, the lyrics are smart, and there’s so much special detail to every swirling hook and chorus. Their melody and sound reminds me a lot of Mrs. Magician as well, in that there’s an essence of Beach Boys, and again the songs are just so strong.
If anything you’ve read has sparked your interest, you really need to check out The Pretty Flowers. All of it, and especially this record. I give no recommendation higher than this one. Tell your friends, they’ll thank you. It makes absolutely no sense at all that these guys aren’t bigger.