Album Review: 2nd Grade – Easy Listening

The Philly band's latest is an absolute delight from start to finish, a perfect balance of sweet, silly and sincere

2nd Grade love music and 2nd Grade are here to remind you that you love music. Check out ‘Cover Of Rolling Stone’, the opener on the band’s third (or maybe fourth, if you count Wish You Were Here and its do-over separately) album. There’s that recurring riff, a little ‘Baba O’Reilly’ but only for a couple of seconds before it’s not. There are the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them Tom Petty references, one quote and two song titles crammed into two lines. There’s the sense that Peter Gill genuinely wants to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, but back when it meant something. And then there’s that big-dumb-smile chorus. Goddammit, has music always been this fun?

By the end of the sweetly stomping ‘Strung Out On You’, Gill is coming across like an Ethan Embry character in a 90s teen movie, a lovable music nerd who ends up with Jennifer Love Hewitt. Maybe he takes her to Empire Records and she falls for him when he talks passionately about Big Star’s Radio City while flicking through the racks. The sunny melodies, the lovestruck harmonies, it’s all so evocative of something so perfectly golden that you can’t be sure it ever really existed. If power pop is built around that hazy nostalgia for something intangible, then this is power pop. But it’s also so much more.

2nd Grade - Strung Out On You (Official Music Video)

Let’s go back to ‘Cover Of Rolling Stone’. It’s sugary sweet, from the ideal of fame as seen through the eyes of youth to Gill’s angelically pure vocals. But that overdriven guitar that kicks in on the chorus sounds like it’s a couple of notches away from disintegrating, propelling the song to a premature conclusion, almost like the amp doesn’t have another chorus in it. It shatters that idea of the band as power pop purists, positioning them closer to the likes of Young Guv, Oso Oso and Mo Troper, genre fans with a healthy disregard for tradition.

Teenage Overpopulation

What’s for sure is that Gill is as fine a songwriter as you’re going to come across in this field, a melodic master who can craft a tune to rival the greats. The opening four songs of Easy Listening are unbeatable, a quick-fire blast of instantly hummable earworms and snappy choruses. In another time, he could have been the “VIP of MTV” that he describes on ‘Cover Of Rolling Stone’.

Me & My Blue Angels

On the band’s brilliant 2020 album Hit To Hit, he proved he could combine the sincere with the silly, following a song as sadly beautiful as ‘Something I’ll Have To Remember’ with a baby shouting “Truck!” repeatedly over feedback and some hardcore riffing. Here, he writes as Kramer missing Jerry from exile in LA or laments the proliferation of “people living in war zones of teenage hormones” as easily as he throws out a line like “Have you ever been too high to be hurt by the ones you love?”

Hit To Hit showed Gill had a surfeit of ideas, so many he couldn’t dwell on one for longer than a minute or two. On Easy Listening, he allows each idea a little more space and time and uncovers even more memorable songs in the process. The result is an impossibly lovely record that is in perfect equilibrium.

Easy Listening is out now to stream and buy from all good record stores and streaming platforms