Less than a year after they ambled on to the scene with their tinny folk rock debut, Holy City, South Carolina's Company are back with Dear America. Armed with fuller production, the group who appeared to pride themselves on delivering fidelity of the lowest order seem keen to inject much-needed brawn into a sound that had been frustratingly frail.
Kicking off with 'Moonlight', it's immediately apparent that things have become tighter and slicker, while 'Show Me You Really Want Me' is considerably warmer than anything on Holy City. The songs themselves, however, are decidedly average, with the former coming dangerously close to the polished 90s Rockabilly of the Mavericks while the latter, seemingly free of irony, sees singer Brian Hannon appropriate the vocal whine of Wheatus's Brendan Brown. Lyrically, it makes sure not to break any poetic ground with the ad nauseum chorus repetition, "Show me you really want me / Show me you really care."
There are countless other influences sprawled proudly across the album's ten songs. Something About You lifts the guitar motif from The Decemberists' 'Yankee Bayonet' before developing in to a quiet-loud power pop number in the vein of Sloan. 'Opening Night''s mawkish attempt to paint a concert scene from the point of view of a band member again touches on Wheatus with unfortunate results, while 'Stuck In My Head''s steady chug and wailing guitars will inevitably herald Pavement comparisons. These songs, however, lack the humour and self- awareness of the artists they seem so at pains to imitate, coming up well short of the careful studies of geek culture exhibited in their by Weezer and Ben Folds in their pomp.
When Company go down the folk route, the results are slightly more satisfying, if only because it's more difficult to pin down a specific forebear in a genre of such scope. While the songs are pleasant, however, they're unlikely to merit revisiting and as Hannon sings the chorus of 'I Am Bound To Drop The Ball', you get a sense of just how bland this record is: "I'm reminded of a thing that my father said to me. He said, "Son, when you get old you'll understand." Surprisingly, this really seems to be the sum total of Hannon's received paternal wisdom as the lyrics go far beyond folk rock truism to plant their feet firmly in the realm of songwriting parody.
Closer, 'Dreams', finds the group again happy to plagiarise their peers. This time it's Band of Horses by numbers, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Company have been touring with Ben Bridwell and co in recent months. Like when Chris Martin condescended to revive Embrace's flagging career by bequeathing comeback single, 'Gravity', back in 2004, it feels as though this was dusted off and presented to Hannon as a gesture of goodwill to their support act. A departure from the previous nine songs, it feels tacked on; an over-eager attempt to provide a euphoric addendum to an unremarkable album. But as the cymbals crash and the frantic downward-strums kick in, it simply ends up feeling hackneyed and one-dimensional.
It's true, then, that the production provides a decent ration of added punch, while Hannon at least wears a wider range of influences on his sleeve, even if he's unable to do so with any degree of subtlety. Company's sound is less obviously indebted to James Mercer this time around, instead drawing on a deeper inkwell that touches on the standard bearers of American indie rock over the last two decades. Unfortunately Hannon's deference sees him veer towards mimicry throughout and he seems quite content to reproduce rather than emulate and in moving away from the unkempt folk charm of Holy City, Company have also jettisoned any semblance of originality. Dear America is therefore a weak effort that plays it safe to the point of tedium, its only purpose to illuminate the work which inspired it in the first place.