REVIEW: Petite League’s “Joyrider” Lo-fi Roots that Pop & Make You Feel It

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On January 8, Petite League released its fifth full-length album Joyrider. Petite League is a Hall-and-Oates-H2O kind of partnership between Lorenzo Gillis Cook who writes and sings all of the songs and plays all the guitars. On prior releases, but not the Joyrider album, he also did the art. Henry Schoonmaker plays the drums. Zeke Aszman did most of the art on Joyrider, except for Cook’s skull and helmet. Jon Searles gets credit for Mix ‘n’ Master.

Petite League, particularly in the early albums, used baseball references, and the French-English name reflects Cook’s life history as an American who grew up in Brussels, Belgium. In those days, he was known as Spark Alaska, churning out covers and eventually a few albums of heartbreakingly beautiful original lo-fi acoustic songs. After returning to the American shores full time, attending Syracuse University and encountering a harder-edged music scene, he decided it was time to rock. Teaming with Schoonmaker, Petite League was born.

Now living in an outer borough of New York City, Cook reveals his most mature voice yet on Joyrider. He’s a talented lyricist and guitar music composer whose lo-fi vibe are well complemented by Schoonmaker’s loose and spirited drumming. The sound is alluring to say the least. On “Joyrider,” the pair combine more pop – though there was always some – with less bubblegum – though there’s still some – into a sonic landscape worthy of – and this is not overstatement – being called a lo-fi Pet Sounds. It’s the best album of the year, and I don’t mean so far. It’s just hard to image something topping this.

‘Moon Dogs’ opens the album with an infectious poppy guitar intro. And then, the vocal punches you in the face. “This life don’t want you ever coming back again.” It’s like no love song I’ve ever tasted, Gromit.

“St. Michael” is a rocker. Classic yet, not really. It reflects a sense of time and place like a lot of Cook’s best songs. “It reminds me of where I come from,” the refrain here reveals what this is all about. It’s not universal. It’s particular.

“Naked” brings out a lighter arrangement, using bells and whistles – the third clearly distinct sound on “Joyrider.” Producing this kind of sonic variety within the lo-fi genre is a magic trick that makes “Joyrider,” for me anyway, the band’s best work. “Dying young’s a life we choose.” He doesn’t mean it literally, and you need to understand that to get it. “It’s been a long fucking year,” but we have to feel it to live it, don’t we?

“Dark Disco” is back to pop but very much Brian Wilson if he’d let himself write about the joy cigarettes brought him in the summer of ’65. “Walking with you always felt like dancing.” God only knows.

“New Tricks” is a shot at the title. Complex guitar work harkens to the Wrecking Crew. But it’s all just two guys. “With a face like that, you must always drink for free. . . . But I’m a broken man, it’s hard to explain. . . . But I met you at the worst time, when I didn’t have a dime to spare.” And then there’s a harmonic that just rings to let you think about it.

“New Spring” is Spark Alaska ten years burning down the road. Maybe a dash of Woody G hitting the stop button on his cassette player in the magical world where he had one.

“Greyhound.” You have to let these songs speak for themselves. “We met on a cross country bus, rest stop lit by your cigarette at dusk.” Another guitar arrangement that’s wise beyond its years with some bass note runs that would make Carol proud. What’s striking is that these songs about something you might call love aren’t about longing. They are about coming out the other side. Where understanding, or at least the hope that you can, is just beyond your grasp.

“Joyrider,” the song, stakes its claim as the best summary of 2020 written in its midst. “Starting fights we never thought we could win, setting cop cars on fire in Brooklyn. This might be our last summer.” And he means it. Not in the figurative sense that this shit is going to make us grow up. Or even in the literal sense that we might not make it to next summer. But in the even more literal sense that when that time of year rolls around again, it just won’t be a summer anymore. “Jump into the flames again, and again, and again.”

By the time you get to “Echo,” you know you’re onto something. “You were dancing like I wasn’t watching you. . . . I just wanna be an echo with you.” The cool breaks and pushed vocals fake you into thinking, finally, just a damn good love song. But then, “I remember it like it was yesterday. If I ran into you, I wouldn’t know what to say.” “All these bad decisions will live forever.” Life in the 20s is crash and boom, right. History repeats itself. “one, two, three.”

“Marathon” is the closing number about “finding love when the sun forgets to shine.” “These little fears, they don’t mean a god damn thing.” “I’ve learned to cope with this by writing little songs for you. Me . . . who knows.” Sometimes I feel very scared, but you have to just keep running the race. It’s not like its a choice. “And this old broken heart’s gotten me pretty damn far.” In that instant, you know you’ve just heard something that you haven’t heard before. And that’s rare. Savor it.

Hearing an album like “Joyrider” makes you think, “imagine what this kid could do in a proper studio with a hot shot producer.” But then you realize, no, just no. Maybe someday. But right now, this is it, brother.

You can buy Joyrider on cassette and get Petite League’s previous releases on the band’s Bandcamp page.

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