The Golden Boys
Better Than Good Times (12XU)
Reviewed by Tim Stegall, Fri., Nov. 24, 2017
The Golden Boys' previous album, 2012's Dirty Fingernails, flexed top-notch production of epic and widescreen roots punk while staying lo-fi filthy. The Panavision warmth of a big, block-chorded Hammond B-3 organ, guitars alternating big open chords, and squalling noise hawking bright and sunny anthems like "California" and "We Are Young" generated more grit than four packs of cigarette butts inside an empty bottle of Jack Daniel's in a $10 motel room. The locals' fifth LP in seven years broke through like a guitar upside your head.
Five years later, drummer James Arthur left on a Manhunt (replaced by Patrick Travis), guitarist John Wesley Coleman III released more music than Robert Pollard – further proof of his barley-and-hops-soaked garage culture genius – and singer/main songwriter/guitarist Matt Hoopengardner wrote "Sundays With Jackie," which announces Better Than Good Times with the howling lead couplet, "I'm on druuugs, hangin' on to dear life/ And I can't go to the hospital, and I can't tell my wife" once again over big open chords, squalling guitar, and the huge comforting sound of a Hammond B-3.
Even so, this isn't a scaled-down Dirty Fingernails.
As overseen by Stuart Sikes, rapidly becoming the local upper echelon garage groups' producer of choice, "So Cowboy," a central duet with Löwin's Sara Houser, and "Cincinnati" yee-haw some trademark Golden Boys twang, then "Kick the Can" reeks of the Band on a supremely boozy night atop its Salvation Army brass section. Nathan Arbeitman plays more piano than the organ, and his electric piano alongside Bryan Schmitz's thick bass shades soul rocker "She's a Song" beautifully. Which doesn't at all mean the Golden Boys no longer rock. When the quintet lets loose with something more propulsive in the vein of "Lonely Girls" or the title track, they somehow manage far more authority than previously, and they were never shy to begin with.
Dirty Fingernails is a lesser band's artistic apex, while its follow-up demonstrates growth and deepening without a ceiling. Picture Pavement as a drunken garage-soul outfit. Better Than Good Times is that good.