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2nd Grade - Hit to Hit Music Album Reviews

The Philly indie pop band’s second album keeps things hooky and whimsical across 24 tracks of mostly light fare and dynamic songwriting.

The music video for “Velodrome”—a breezy indie power-pop cut off 2nd Grade’s second record Hit to Hit—features the band dressed up in character as a beatnik, a flower child, a home baker, a cowboy, and a bubble bather. Each is rendered as both earnest and comically archetypal—the beat poet, for example, plays the drums in tiny sunglasses and a French beret, in front of a copy of Infinite Jest, while never once breaking into winking self-awareness. Those discrete sketches of slightly askew tropes provide an apt visual guide to Hit to Hit, a record that often feels like a series of creative writing assignments illuminated by compact pop hooks.
Led by guitarist and vocalist Peter Gill, 2nd Grade is the product of Philadelphia’s thriving DIY scene, a supergroup of sorts for fans of West Philly house shows. Catherine Dwyer and Jack Washburn of the cult punk group Remember Sports provide guitar and bass, respectively; guitarist and vocalist Jon Samuels collaborated with Gill on the folk-country act Friendship; Gill previously played guitar in the now-defunct indie pop act Free Cake for Every Creature. There’s even a vocal credit from Carmen Perry of Remember Sports’ two-year-old brother. Gill’s new venture takes bits and pieces from each of those acts—the childlike wonder of Free Cake’s songwriting, the melodies of Remember Sports, the Americana of Friendship—and rids itself of any context or pretense. Instead, each song on the record exists with its own internal logic, homing in on a single concept—taxes, Texas, the existential freedom of riding your first bike—as the core tenant of that song’s universe.
If Gill’s vision weren’t so specific, and if the band weren’t so mutable in their approaches to instrumentation, these concepts would quickly wear thin. But at every possible juncture, Gill leans heavily into the playfulness of his ideas. There’s the cartoonish gunshot effects on “Shooting From the Hip” and the sound of motorcycles revving on the ode to road films “Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.” There’s the thrashing punk track “Baby’s First Words,” whose title only starts to make sense as a toddler giddily yells “Truck!”

Though most of the record exists in the broader sounds of indie pop, borrowing from the jangly guitar of Big Star’s Chris Bell and the bright chord progressions of the Beach Boys, Hit to Hit manages to keep a sense of novelty by shifting modes throughout—on “100 Hrs,” Samuels’ deep, rounded twang takes the record into “Lonesome Cowboy” territory; the noisy discord and shouting vocals on “Jazz Chorus” recall the spartan intensity of Big Black. At 24 songs—most clocking in under two minutes—Hit to Hit is an unfiltered product, one that prioritizes absurdity and experimentation over consistency. It takes a bet on jingles as a creative mode (sometimes quite literally, as on the sugary-sweet “Sunkist”), and these songs are most fleshed out in that precise context—peppy, self-contained, practically built to be cheeky filler on a crush’s mixtape.

Hit to Hit’s final quarter, which the band recorded as an ensemble, takes a more grounded approach. But after a record of instant gratification, these gentler tracks have a tendency to melt together. “Flavor of the Week” and “Summer of Your Dreams” is built on open chords and romantic pining, but fails to grow into more than circuitous, sleepy strumming. It’s not that they’re poorly constructed—Gill’s soft crooning is a charming accompaniment to the subdued acoustic guitar. But in a world as whimsical as 2nd Grade’s, it’s hard not to wish for Gill’s camp counselor enthusiasm to stick around a little longer.

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