Matt Hutson and Gary Schrader had been veterans of the Indiana music scene for some time when they met playing in a local church band. The pair realized they had something together and decided to combine forces as Outerfield. The duo enlisted the help of Posies and latter-day Big Star Member Jon Auer, who produced some of the group's sessions, but they were not initially happy with the results. Undeterred, they revisited the material and managed to cobble out a strong album, Pleasant Grove Hotel, in the process.
Unsurprisingly, given the Auer connection, the album is rooted in strong song structure, with plenty of power pop hooks and excellent musicianship throughout. Opening track "Wondering if You're Real" has a bluesy feel, with tasteful slide guitar, maracas and chiming bells. Marching band drums accompany some nice harmonies and smart lead guitar playing. The drums are mixed fully and powerfully both here and throughout the album.
On "Dust, acoustic and electric guitars meet in this straight-ahead track. The song has a killer rhythmic break, excellent vocal harmonies and a gritty guitar solo. "Voices" showcases a mellotron doubling as strings on this psychedelic-infused number. The song adds a trippy edge to the power pop the duo delivers and has a bit a Fountains of Wayne feel.
The ballad "Getting It Right" is rich in keyboards and dreamy textures. Hutson's falsetto and some otherworldly slide guitar highlight this well-crafted gem. The band stretches out a bit on "Vending Machine". With its staccato rhythm that recalls "Taxman," this up-tempo song drives the second half of the album. The song features some clever lyrics as Hutson invites someone to be a vending machine like him and is possibly about disposable people who serve a purpose for a short time.
The album ends with "You're Out there, a bouncy track with a strong piano melody over organ and fuzzed out guitars with a psychedelic vocal. It is a potent way to ending to a strong LP.
Hutson and Schrader's persistence paid off with Pleasant Grove Hotel. The band may wear their influences on their sleeves, but they never sound derivative. Instead, they use those classic sounds as the basis to build something new. This well-crafted album is worth a listen.