Great music always has been challenging. Radiohead never intended “OK Computer” to be immediately accessible and “Exile on Main Street” lacked the radio-ready singles that defined much of the Rolling Stones’ earlier music.
Still, sometimes you just want to pop in an album and listen to something simple: big hooks, heroic guitar solos, songs about girls.
No band fills that need better than Free Energy, a Philadelphia quintet that brings its irony-free brand of tunes to Brick and Mortar on Thursday as part of San Francisco’s 21st Noise Pop festival, which opens Tuesday and runs through March 3.
Free Energy’s music won’t inspire navel-gazing. The band’s songs are for kids with Chuck Taylors and tank-tops who want to funnel beers and party.
Although the group’s flawless appropriation of 1970s-era rawk seems like it would be inherent in the musicians’ DNA, their hymns to Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy developed through a very circuitous path.
Originally billed as Hockey Night, the group’s early songs were steeped in vintage indie-rock; many tracks were thinly veiled re-creations of Pavement recordings. Only after hooking up with indie auteur James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) and his DFA label did Free Energy embrace its inner Fleetwood Mac.
“I think we had this mindset that we were geniuses who were going to make this weird, unconventional rock record," says frontman Paul Sprangers. “But after talking with James we realized that we wanted to change and grow. We didn’t want to hide behind being intelligent, or clever or winking.”
The result was the 2010 debut “Stuck on Nothing,” a soaring album filled with irresistibly catchy nuggets including “Free Energy” and “Bang Pop.” Critics loved it, and the band drew a loyal following, even though most fans were more accustomed to listening to Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors than the Cars.
The group took two years to write, record and self-release its new record, “Love Sign.”
Sprangers says Free Energy had no plans to capitalize on the popularity of “Stuck on Nothing” by quickly putting out a second album.
“We were just flying blind,” Sprangers said. “In the end, the most important thing was not rushing this album. We wanted to make sure we put out the best possible product, and it turned out that releasing it ourselves was the best way to do that.”
“Love Sign” doesn’t deviate from the group’s formula, with dumb-as-smart songs such as “Girls Want Rock” and “Hangin.” Sprangers channels his inner adolescent and sings about kissing girls with lipgloss and dancing all night long, while Scott Wells bangs out licks that would make every guitar geek proud.
“Love Sign” is disarmingly easy to enjoy, and that comfort level is something the band shouldn’t have to defend, says Sprangers: “I mean, the album is called ‘Love Sign.’ It’s not supposed to make any bold statements. It's just music that’s made with love and integrity, and we put everything we had into it."