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Arts & Life

Music Review: Deco Auto's 'The Curse Of Deco Auto'

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Deco Auto
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Deco Auto

Deco Auto
The Curse of Deco Auto

In an earlier time and with a little luck, “One of a Million,” the opening cut to Deco Auto’s latest release, The Curse of Deco Auto, just might’ve been a hit.

It’s the sort of would-be single — power-pop-crunchy, sing-along-catchy, turn it up and play it again — that would’ve sounded right at home in heavy rotation on MTV’s 120 Minutes. 

Or, for that matter, a record, with only minor tweaking, that Casey Kasem could have introduced during the first hour of an episode of "American Top 40."

“One of a Million” calls to us with skittering drum sticks and strummed power chords, then shoves us hurtling into the conflicted emotions of a guy who knows, or at least strongly suspects, that he’s hardly his love’s only lover. “Couldn’t live without this hurt,” Steven Garcia confesses, sounding absolutely miserable. Thanks to those power chords, and a bouncy, steady groove, he also sounds like he’s never had such a blast. He’s eating his cake and regretting it, too.

Deco Auto is a Kansas City trio comprised of singer-guitarist Garcia, who writes all the songs; bassist and vocalist Tracy Flowers; and drummer Pat Tomek. Together, they form a band of traditionalists, playing a brand of pop-rock that skews differently in different moments but one that’s been around for decades. Think Cheap Trick or Rick Springfield playing arenas circa 1980. Think of Lawrence’s Get Smart or Iowa’s House of Large Sizes filling area clubs and theaters in years since. Think even, perhaps, of that band you and your sister formed the summer before she moved away to college.

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Sometimes these bands sound polished and enormous. Sometimes, as in Deco Auto’s case, they sound raw and merely big. Always, their music values hooks and cranks the guitars, leaning punky or new wavy without ever being either. This pop-rock sound straddles a thematic line, as well, framing its typically anxious, undecided moods within smiling, ebullient, all-in sonics. The effect, in Deco Auto’s case as it’s been in so many bands before them, and to come, is to erode confusion until all that’s left is fun.

The Curse of Deco Auto was co-produced by Garcia and Pat Tomek, a long time fixture of the Kansas City scene — he’s been the guy behind the kit for Howard Iceberg and the Titanics, the Rainmakers and, way back in the day, the Secrets, themselves a kind of keyboard-focused version of Deco Auto. Nothing else that Tomek, Garcia and Flowers have come up with on The Curse… matches “One of a Million,” in precisely the same way Cheap Trick and Rick Springfield never topped “Surrender” and Jesse’s Girl” or, from local moment but locally, the Secrets never topped “Uniform.”

But they come close, repeatedly, usually drawing to mind other kindred bands and sounds — “The Silent Ones” (Matthew Sweet), “Play Along” (Green Day), and “The Introduction” (with Flowers singing lead, chased by the guitar blasts from Duran Duran’s “Rio”) — the way traditionalists tend to do. At the same time, they sound exactly like Deco Auto.

The Curse of Deco Auto ends with “Turning Down.” “Turned down your turn-down service,” Flowers sings, taking another turn at the mike and sounding a little creeped out: “Turned out you made me nervous.” But then she shouts “come on” — and we do, shouting along with her and smiling. Turn it up and play it again.

It’s the gift of Deco Auto.

KCUR contributor David Cantwell is the author of Merle Haggard: The Running Kind, the co-author of Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, and a contributor to Newyorker.com. You can follow him on Twitter, @dlcantwell.

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