The unfilial Elvis Brothers (drummer Brad, singer/bassist Graham and guitarist Rob) from Champaign, Illinois have roots in many local bands of that area (some, like Brad’s Screams, credible, others cringeable); together, they played a marvelous (and deceptively simple) concoction of slicked-up rockabilly, stripped-down Cheap Trick-tinged melodic rock and roll and pristine pure pop that boasts superbly articulated energy, occasionally goofy lyrics and enough hooks to catch a school of minnows. Movin’ Up traverses a panoply of mildly bent styles, from mock-Stray Cats (“Fire in the City”) to Dave Edmunds-ish nostalgia (“Hey Tina”) to Anglo-pop (“Hidden in a Heartbeat”) to countryfied rock (“Santa Fe”) and much more. Sure, they futz around a lot (especially onstage), but their silliness never interferes with the serious task of playing catchy pop with maximum gusto. It may not have meant a lot, but the first album is truly mega-fun.
Adrian Belew’s more complex production of Adventure Time doesn’t dampen the E-Bros.’ lighthearted spirit. There are socially responsible messages about gun control and insanity in the modern world but, by and large, the Elvises go about their business with typical happy-go-lucky aplomb. From the melodic rush of “Burnin’ Desire” and “Somebody Call the Police” to the gentle beauty of “Crosswinds” and the clockwork pop precision of the Japanese fan tribute “Akiko Shinoda,” they effortlessly toss off tune after tune of infectious should-be-hits. The two albums were subsequently paired on a single CD under the debut’s title.
Losing their major-label contract and spending the better part of a decade playing Chicago-area clubs without making a record didn’t blow any of the fizz out of the band’s sails: Now Dig This emerges from the same wellspring of spirited tunefulness. There’s little evidence of the band’s silly streak, but the best songs here are otherwise as appealing as any in the trio’s past. “Valentine,” “Strangelove,” “Dreamland” and “Next Time I Fall in Love” all recall aspects of the 1965 Beatles, but with crisp modern energy and Midwestern flair. Meanwhile, “I’ve Got Skies for Her” and “Peace of Mind” try on a psychedelic rock frock.