Ask the members of Curtail to describe their sound—which, as any band will tell you, is a tough task—and they'll go abstract ("If Sheryl Crow wrote songs for Archers of Loaf") and ambitious. "It's modernized '90s alternative," says bass guitarist Dan Corby. "It's hope in tough times. It sounds big like it can fill a stadium."
Although these sentiments might seem like hyperbole, there's an element of truth within all of them—as evidenced by the Akron, Ohio, band's well-crafted debut, All Your Luck(Skeletal Lightning, May 25). Recorded and produced by guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Ben Hendricks in his Akron home studio—and mixed and mastered by Tim Gerak (Six Parts Seven) in Denver at his Mammoth Cave Studios—the record contains plenty of '90s touchstones: distortion-ashed guitars, tightly wound hooks and intricate rhythms.
Yet All Your Luck exudes a range of moods and approaches. "Come Around" and "The Lesson" are urgent grunge-pop spirals, while the dreamier "Glow" is both buoyant and noisy. Solemn keyboards, meanwhile, give the sparse indie-pop murmur "7 Years" and stomping rocker "Rush Hour" gravitas.
Built to Spill, mellower The Dismemberment Plan and early Promise Ring are certainly sonic touchstones. But what separates All Your Luck from other releases is Curtail's songwriting vision and commitment to digging beyond superficial '90s rock signifiers. Above all, All Your Luck exudes possibility—the sense that even if life might be challenging right now, something bigger and better might be just around the corner.
"Our songs remind me of hearing and watching the music videos and songs of alternative pop singer/songwriters/bands in the mid-late'90s and how they made me feel when I was 10 years old," Sloan says. "That is when I was inspired first majorly by music. This music is trying to emulate that time."
Appropriately, Sloan describes All Your Luck as a "coming of age, coming out of my shell album" where he was "really starting to get comfortable with myself as a songwriter." He started writing what became the album's lyrics in the wake of several major life changes: the end of a long-term relationship, finishing college after a ten-year music career, and getting a full-time job.
"All the real juicy, adult stuff," he says. "It's also about family, heartache, some abuse, facing personal demons, and coming to terms with the reality that some of those demons aren't going anywhere. Some things don't change—but life can be totally fucking wonderful and beautiful at the same time."
Curtail coalesced in 2014 after Sloan, who had been booking several local Cleveland music festivals, decided to focus on his own music again. Hendricks, Corby and, finally, drummer Eric Sandt joined him in the nascent project. "We took our time writing together and really just had a lot of fun with it," Sloan says. "The sound developed on its own."
It helped that Curtail's members are veterans of Northeast Ohio's thriving DIY music community, and knew each other thanks to their previous bands. Sloan and Corby played together in the indie-pop band Bethesda, while Hendricks is in emo-tinged rockers Annabel and Sandt doubles as drummer for jangly pop act Heavenly Creatures.
In Hendricks' eyes, that combination of friendship and experience makes all the difference as to how Curtail coalesced and evolved—and why the band's songs resonate. "Playing in the same scene we had similar ideas about music," he says. "Jesse has such a strong songwriting ability, and that made it really easy for me to add on to."
Adds Corby: "Jesse and I have always written well together, and when he came to me with these songs I clicked with them immediately. We've been through a lot of similar struggles, and I think it comes out in the music."
In a nod to this chemistry, Curtail plans to tour as much as they can, and is even already working on album number two. "We've been playing shows for a while now but took our time with the record, really doing it the way we wanted and using our time wisely," Sloan says. "Now we have a nice path forward and a sound to build on." - Annie Zaleski