It makes sense that Brooklyn four-piece Clear Plastic Masks decided to move to Nashville. For one, their brand of rowdy, Southern, ‘70s-inspired bar rock feels more at home alongside The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and Kings of Leon than Dirty Projectors or The National. Their relocation also led them to sign with Kings of Leon’s label, Serpents & Snakes. For Being There, their debut, the band teams up with producer Andrija Tokic, whose recent credits include Alabama Shakes’ Boys & Girls and Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Small Town Heroes. On this record, Tokic brings the same tools he did for Alabama Shakes: making the guitars bluesy yet powerful while getting the most out of the lead singer’s emotive howls. Though there’s a solid kinship between the two bands (Clear Plastic Masks and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard have also teamed up for the side project Thunderbitch), Clear Plastic Masks are more unhinged. Where Howard’s rasp is soulful and soaring, Clear Plastic Masks’ Andrew Katz’ is a gravelly growl — think Iggy Pop with a Southern drawl.
Right away, Katz jumps in with abrasiveness for opener “In Case You Forgot”. Over wailing guitars, he contradictorily yelps, “We are everything/ We are nothing.” It’s a wonderful, if by the book, combination. On “Outcast”, a driving cover of Eddie & Ernie’s 1965 soul single, the band channels the original’s big band aesthetic, making it one of the album’s highlights. All cylinders fire for the band when their lead guitars duel and Katz hollers, as on the barn-burning “Shakedown” and the alternate universe Rubber Factory track “When the Nightmare Comes”.
However, when Clear Plastic Masks venture away from their bread-and-butter bar rock, the results are mixed. There’s the piano-based “Hungry Cup”, which shows that without the onslaught of guitars and screams, the band struggles to grab attention. “Aliens”, another slow one, fares a little better with its stumbling, romantic sway and Katz movingly singing, “One thing’s for certain/ No one asks to be born.” Later, the four-minute instrumental “Dos Cobras”, even with its swagger, arguably runs too long. Meanwhile, the album’s closer, “Working Girl”, treads too closely to Southern rock tropes.
With their raucous live show, Clear Plastic Masks have proven to be worth attention, their songs a perfect fit for beer-soaked nights at the rock club. On Being There, they’ve managed to put together a promising and fairly confident batch of songs. But going forward in a revivalist genre full of talented bands, Clear Plastic Masks need to better stake their claim as Nashville’s rowdiest newcomers.
Essential Tracks: “Shakedown”, “Outcast”, and “Aliens”