Space Raft’s singer/guitarist Jordan Davis started out in the fine teenage garage band, Mystery Girls, in Green Bay, WI, around the early-2000s. But even then, in their drunken, nervous, tip-toe into a rock life, they displayed solid songwriting chops, eventually landing on In The Red, but fraying into the all ages ether. So it’s nice to see him back driving this thick-hooked, wah-wah-rock combo that evokes images of flare jeans, swaying hair and tall amps with the pleather peeling off the sides.
The Milwaukeeans really lay it on upfront in the second song, Jupiter Rising, singing of “the hydrogen sky” and being out there, searching, believing. Luckily most of their excursions hover around four minutes, but should you see one of their shows, offer them beer or Coca-Cola rather than more weed. For now, their dutiful, near-jam leanings are simply rooted in the Great Lakes’ laid back, basement practice-then-porch-chat tradition. There’s a Matthew Sweet-like yearn about, the back-up vocals are of a similar power pop vintage and the beats are boot-stomp sure. It all rises up and out highest on Rescue Mission that rocks like latter-day Hellacopters, and the gleaming, just right ‘n’ ragged We’re Not Alone, a summer sunset jam par excellance.
Overall, the redux ’70s vibe has Space Raft suited to share a bill or bowl with Goodnight Loving and Spider Bags, opening for the Reigning Sound. (In fact, Goodnight Loving bassist Colin Swinney was actually in Space Raft at its start, before moving off to California.) It’s quite easy for a quintessential “midwest” (a huge area by the way, so let’s not stereotype, but, y’know) band to saunter the fence between cheap-rent lifestyle grooving and wheel-spinning. And there are moments here where you’ll be nudged into deciding which side they’re teetering into, noticeably on the plainly Beatles-y Venus in Transit and shimmying jam-anthems Waves Of Frustration, and Humboldt Reservoir Blues. Never thought I’d say a band could sometimes use more wah-wah and cowbell, but there you go.
But hey, coming down from their post-teen years sharing stages with various drunken garage kooks has probably earned Davis and pals some time to do the head down and solo slow-down for a bit. (Keyboardist TJay Christenson was in Temper Temper; bassist Srini Radhakrishna was in Guilty Pleasures, one of the wilder garage punk bands of the mid-90s—you should seek out their excellent posthumous LP on Dusty Medical from a couple years ago.) Plus, being a debut, and given the propensity for new bands to tour, sharpen up and gain organic gusto, one can hope the second album is just revved enough to carve a more distinct personality into the deck of this Raft.