Autumn temps are perfect for outdoor activities
A while back, Johnny Mac (who the government knows as John McAteer) was just about ubiquitous on local stages. With a shaved head and dark-framed glasses, he looked kind of like an amiable Lex Luthor. He always played alone, churning out full-throated, mind-searing, hook-heavy pop-rock. Every so often, he put out a homemade EP.
Lately, unless you've caught him making pizzas at Vino's, Mac's been mostly MIA. In 2005, he started playing sporadically with Graham Cobb, late of il libertina, and Jason Thompson, long the drummer for Hector Faceplant. The trio, billed Johnny Mac and the Reds, did a memorable approximation of the Police for the ACAC's annual Halloween cover-up, and then continued to play shows together very sporadically. Somewhere along the way, the band became just plain the Reds. (“Not like communists. Like colors,” their MySpace page says.)
“Economy of Motion” is an allusion to one of the principles of the martial arts system that Bruce Lee developed. The idea is to avoid wasted motion. The Reds stay true to their title: The dudes realize that less rocking can be more. With all the reverb (both intentional and as the result of an accidental slapback in home recording) and spare, bass-heavy arrangements, there are hints of Spoon here, but where Britt Daniel's gone all blue-eyed soul, Mac's voice leans more towards new-wave drama. That's a perfect vehicle for the singer/songwriter's anxiety-filled story-songs. One of the best, “The Lights,” tracks a nervous, disoriented drunk, who, in the chorus, keeps getting blinded by a bright barroom light and accidentally knocking over a bottle. “I count the bottles in the mirror behind the bar/ I count the people who just can't talk anymore. / It's 10 steps to where you are / and 53 steps to the bathroom do-o-or.” Another stand-out, “Summer,” counters bouncy pop with lyrics of a blinding sun, peeling skin and a summer where everything's gone wrong.
Most everything goes right in this debut. Mac's pop-referential songwriting has never been better and the arrangements are almost always compelling. Pick up the CD and make sure you lobby Mac next time you're in Vino's for more shows.
— Lindsey Millar