Psychic Reader (July 17th, 2015) by the Bad Bad Hats Review
In suburban Northwest Portland, life can feel like an eternal traffic jam — the musty mildew swarming over abandoned sidewalks, the unguarded, mid-December garage sales with icicles hanging over each window. West Portland is a world apart from the East side: its not gritty, grungy or hipster. Its middle-class haven, and forever stuck in the 90’s.
Unshockingly, it’s an invitation for isolation. For my high-school self, most nights were spent in my polka-dotted bedroom, practicing the same three bass solos for talent shows nobody really attended.
But only a fifteen minute drive east, the big town, small city vibe is alive and thriving, glowing vibrantly in the form of sushi bar signs and strip clubs posing as family-friendly hotels. Throughout my youth, it wasn’t uncommon to run into environmentally conscious craft stores that sold broken light bulbs, or food-cart monopolies on vegan junk food. Indeed, downtown Portland boasts a unique feeling that I thought couldn’t be mimicked anywhere, or, in anything.
Obviously, I have never been to Minneapolis, and I hadn’t heard of the band Bad Bad Hats until recently. Its been exactly one year since they made their debut album Psychic Reader. I came across the record while scouring Spotify for that unmistakable West Portland teenager sound, a cross of emotional, acoustic indie tunes and toe-tapping pop-rock.
The sunny trio (according to their website, Triforce), Kerry Alexander (vocals, guitar), Chris Hoge (drums) and Noah Boswell (bass) were signed to Afternoon Records in 2013, the year they released a bubbly EP called It Hurts. Psychic Reader was a successful follow-up, its fresh, mint-green cover featuring a silver waning crescent, fitting to the bands quirky yet ethereal sound.
From the beginning, the album expresses the band’s eccentric energy. “Midway” sets the mood in a star-gazing kind of night, atmospheric with a steady beat. Kerry Alexanders vocals are soft and girly with a karate kick, somewhere in between Michelle Branch, Ryn Weaver and Vanessa Carlton.
“Shame” is unquestionably the most energetic of Psychic Reader, and the least fitting to the album. Its dramatic, electric guitar-filled introduction breaks into the album’s whimsical aura, and sounds strangely reminiscent of 2010’s forgettable pop-punk phase. Thankfully, it’s countered by a hilarious music video, and an incredible bass line build-up to the chorus in “Joseph”, where Alexander wistfully sings, “I want you to remember, I want you to forget about me.”
“Psychic Reader” brings back the chimerical warmth of “Midway”, leading dramatically into “Fight Song”, a melody with more determination, less dreaming. A fierce, empowering movement is introduced in Things We Never Say as Alexander whispers,
“Can’t get you off my mind, babe, so I bought this dress to spite you / I’ll wear it cause I hate you, cause you don’t know what you got / Then I’ll wear it to your house and I’ll let you take it off.”
Continued in “Cruella”, a speculation on unfaithfulness, Psychic Readers message becomes stronger and increasingly independent. Alexander proclaims herself Cruella de Vil, an infamous, luxuriously-living woman widely known as a heartless bad-bitch. While the pieces don’t always fit musically, the theme is dynamic with just enough consistency.
It seems as though Alexander’s voice grows within Psychic Reader. Our golden-blonde heroine in crimson sunglasses goes from pleading in “Joseph” to veering away from an unhealthy relationship in “Spin” (“Hey baby, I’ve been meaning to tell you / I don’t want to die for you”). “Say Nothing” incorporates catchy instrumentals into a frustrating topic: those lovers we chase who will never reciprocate how much we care for them (“Don’t ask where this is coming from / Don’t act like you’re the lonely one”).
In 2015, Alexander explained to Interview Magazine her adoration for love songs. “I think this album is sort of focused on past relationships I’ve had and reminiscing about things that were, but are no longer,” she said. The narrative told in Psychic Reader is one of a young adult who is still fighting to understand how quickly emotions can come and go. Alexander, as its main character, skates through her experiences with more confidence in each chapter. As a reader — or, in this case, listener — I would categorize her as her own superhero.
Psychic Reader gracefully spins from cowering to dramatic, revealing the spectrum emotion romance can bring. At the same time, it fails to be cheesy. The Bad Bad Hats have wiggled their way into my list of favorite bands because they seem incapable of writing songs that are unrelatable. Instead, each track tells deep, reflective stories that should make you cry, but don’t. Because they’re too busy making you dance.