Now that Baltimore has finally gotten its due as a great American music town, let’s talk about Philadelphia. This is a city that, in recent history, has given us the venerable How I Got Over by The Roots and the “constant hitmaker,” Kurt Vile (not to mention Free Energy, Man Man, and a barrel of others). But now that Reading Rainbow‘s debut pop masterwork Prism Eyes LP is out on HoZac, it’s officially Philadelphia’s time.
Reading Rainbow is a Philadelphia two-piece, Rob Garcia and Sarah Everton, that makes elating garage pop. Their album starts out with “Wasting Time”, a downright anthem for days spent with friends doing nothing in particular. It’s the perfect opening song: Garcia and Everton bash out an unforgettable hook and show what they’re capable of, particularly their gorgeous harmonies and octave-separated unison vocals. After a couple minutes of build-up, they overlay the chorus with the verse. It’s the kind of song that has the aim for either happy-jump-dancing or at least hands-in-pockets-smile-swaying.
And the elation doesn’t stop there. The pair has 40 minutes of tightly written, expertly executed pop to run through on Prism Eyes. With “Always On My Mind”, they replace the guitar with a keyboard for a poignant song about longing. “Cut In Two” places a sweet-and-sour vocal over a punk chord progression. Every song is an incredible slice of pop. And that’s the only problem.
Prism Eyes is killer as a series of singles, but there’s not much variety here. Most of the songs are fast-paced major chord romps with beautiful harmonies, and while they’re all well done, it’s hard to appreciate them on an individual level when there’s not much to set them apart. Sure, there are a couple slower, dreamier songs like “Let’s Dream Tonight”, “Animals Take Control of Me”, and “Runaways”, but even then, it’s the same “major chord/harmony” aesthetic. Again, said harmonies are fantastic, but with every song’s vocal headed by both Garcia and Everton, it makes one wonder what would happen if one of them went at it alone for a verse.
And ultimately, this is an album where the songs flow well, but as with any music, it’s hard to listen to the same kind of song over and over again. It’s like listening to a greatest hits record–while a great album has peaks and valleys, the “hits” record has almost only peaks. But if the biggest insult that can lobbed at Reading Rainbow is that their debut album sounds like a greatest hits record, they’re doing something extremely well.
The album ends with “To My Gemini”, an appropriately slowed-down counterbalance to the thrill of “Wasting Time”. At 4:24, it gets a bit long and repetitive, but that’s okay. After all, this is a band that, earlier in the album, has just handily crafted an incredible new entry to Philadelphia’s soundscape.