If the songs on Scrap Iron Sun’s latest effort, “Recycled,” sound as raw and unhinged as if the band has already been playing them live aggressively for years, it’s because many of the songs have been making the rounds as part of the band’s repertoire almost since the 2009 release of their debut album, “Getting a Rusty Tan.” However, this hasn’t stopped the inventive quartet from West Springfield, Massachusetts, from tinkering even with the songs that their fans are most familiar with. Frequent opener “Friday June 28th” gets a boost from an inventive horn section, and rocker “The Missing Link” sounds even more melodic with extra backing vocals from guitarist and main songwriter Scott Cleveland. However, a full appreciation of Scrap Iron Sun’s sound and creative process also requires an overview of the band’s brief but very active history.
In 2009, Cleveland and his longtime collaborator, guitarist, vocalist, and occasional banjoist George Condon, decided to turn their on-again off-again music hobby into a full-time effort and produce an album. The result, the aforementioned “Getting a Rusty Tan,” is an exemplary studio effort, with such tracks as the syrupy, recorder-laced “I’m Still Sane,” the haunting, trance-like “Only the Dead,” and the jazzy, bar-piano groove of “Wallflower’s Lament.” The range of influences and styles that the band displays (including but not limited to the classic rock of the Kinks and the Who, the simplistic catchy garage rock riffing of early Black Keys efforts, the minor-key daydreams and vocal melodies of the Moody Blues, and the jolting punk rock of the Dead Kennedys) keeps the album sounding fresh at every turn. The common threads that keep their debut effort consistent are the creative interplay of George and Scott’s guitars, with each member taking turns at lead throughout the work (and occasionally within the same song, as in “Girl Next Door”) and the detached humor found throughout the lyrics, which keeps songs that often deal with frustration and failed relationships from feeling whiny or self-absorbed.
When the band started playing out to support the album, many of “Rusty Tan’s” straightforward, up-tempo songs became immediate live staples, such as “Big Brother,” “Don’t Lose Your Sleep,” and “Excuses.” However, many of the album’s more subtle, studio-dependent cuts necessarily got left behind. As the foursome, now rounded out by a rhythm section consisting of bassist Ryan Bell and drummer David Condon, shifted their focus to playing more and more frequent shows in New York and Connecticut in addition to their home state, the goal for the next effort became making an album that maintained the same creativity as the first, but with songs that fit more comfortably into the band’s set lists. With “Recycled,” this was accomplished in large part by working many of the songs’ arrangements out live before recording them. The band’s sense of discovery is still intact, but the band has already figured out how these songs will translate live, instead of releasing the material first and playing catch up. You can download Scrap Iron Sun’s first two albums here and you can catch them playing songs from both of their albums, as well as a handful of cover songs pulled from their many influences and favorite artists, as they trek across the area.