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There’s certainly some irony in the title to the Cringe’s new album, Hiding in Plain Sight, the band’s fourth and most accomplished. While the Lower Manhattan-based band has made a habit of opening very visible shows for bands like The New York Dolls, The Hold Steady, The Bravery and Fuel over the last eight years, they remain oddly under the radar of most rock cognoscenti, despite a devoted fan base and a remarkably active half-decade-plus career.
Perhaps that’s because the Cringe’s lyrical and melody-infused punk-prog approach flies in the face of the minimalist rock aesthetic that has dominated much of the past decade. Instead, the Cringe revel in the kind of rough-hewn textures, bold instrumental turns, and aggressive grooves that bands from Foo Fighters to Soundgarden let fly, while making albums with the type of studio zeal associated with album-rock giants like Radiohead and The Who. Indie-folk, they ain’t.
The band’s previous three albums—Scratch the Surface , Tipping Point  and Play Thing —won praise for what All-Music Guide called their “dynamic mix of artful, harmonic power pop and raw, aggressive punk garage-band energy,” for founding member John Cusimano’s “infectious and insightful songwriting,” and for the band’s “top-flight musicianship.” The Cringe were, said AMG, “this decade’s answer to the Foo Fighters,” a perfect mix of “blistering energy and thoughtful contemplation for these troubled times.”
The band has made believers of fellow artists like Bob Schneider, Vertical Horizon, and Sister Hazel, all of whom have invited the Cringe onto opening bills, as well as food celebrity Rachael Ray, who Cusimano married in 2005. Ray, a fervent alt-rock aficionado, stokes the crowd before her husband’s band takes the stage at Stubb’s each year during her immensely popular annual Feedback event in Austin, TX.
Perhaps that kind of wide-ranging support is one reason why Hiding in Plain Sight is such a significant artistic step up for the band, which features Cusimano (“JC” to his friends) on vocals, keyboards and rhythm guitar, celebrated drummer Shawn Pelton (SNL Band, Sheryl Crow,), lead guitarist and singer James “Roto” Rotondi (Mr. Bungle, Air, The Grassy Knoll) and bassist Jonny Blaze (Alice Smith); the band produced the album as a team, with engineering by Steve Hardy (Vertical Horizon) and mixing by Hardy and Jon Kaplan (Augustana, Parachute). For mastering, Cusimano turned to the legendary Emily Lazar, fresh off her award-winning work on the Foo’s Wasting Light.
From the down-and-dirty, D-Generation-style boogie rock of “Gotta Find A Way” to the Neil Young-like super ballad “Make Me Something,” the songs on Hiding in Plain Sight certainly do not hide their eclectic intentions. “Rushing Through the World,” an unholy alliance of Rage Against the Machine-era riff rock and King Crimson-style lattice-work, is an almost Buddhist appeal to turn inward before we blow up the outside world: “It’s a sin we all commit/We’re running from ourselves, lost again from where there’s stillness.”
Like some lost gem conjoining the guts of Raw Power with the headiness of Superunknown, “Get Me Some” tells a ‘70s-inspired New York story of 100-degreee summer nights and Alphabet City sleaze: “Bad blood downtown/picks me up and drags me down/sweating bullets like a loaded gun/Warm and dangerous all in one/I’m gonna get me some.” “Lord Jim,” with its stacks of minor chords and odd-time blues riffs, suggests Cream by way of Kyuss, its heaviosity underscored by lyrics that probe the terrors of a downward spiral: “The thunder moves/Your thumbs will screw/The black horse bears down on you.”
With powerful tracks like these, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the Cringe to fly under the radar much longer. . .