Kinda Like Fireworks

This Kansas City-based band's second LP is just as driven by catchy melodies and smart, real-life lyric-writing as their first, 2006's Tourism. But they're tighter: a forceful, even fiery power-pop trio.

The band's singer/songwriter/guitarist, Jesse Kates, sings with a devotion and sensitivity that's sometimes surprising; his voice will rise above the rock, catch air. His guitar will too, alternating between lightness and crunch.

The songs switch too from the rough to the gentle, by telling stories sad and sweet. Within them people make mistakes, hurt each other, and express their love, through road trips and a shared knowledge of each other's eccentricities. This musical and lyrical balancing of hurt and tenderness is to the album's benefit, making it a very human sort of rock 'n' roll album.

- Dave Heaton, The Big Takeover

It's hard to miss a name like The Sexy Accident. Score points for a catchy moniker. Guitarist and lead singer Jesse Kates, bassist Patrick Fent, and drummer Daniel Torrence are power pop pugilists fighting to express their views on those human strengths and weaknesses - love, lust, loss, and infidelity - that make life more than a to-do list. The band's latest album, Kinda Like Fireworks, shows their finesse at delivering tightly composed pop songs that employ unusual time signatures and catchy hooks.

Ringleader Jesse Kates isn't new at the recording game. He's progressed from two instrumental albums as a member of Whitford to Sleight of Hand, a solo record of loop-based guitar music. Next, Kates formed The Sexy Accident and released Tourism, an album of indie pop with chewy hooks billed as Weezer meets Elvis Costello.

Kinda Like Fireworks follows closely in the footsteps of that Weezer meets Costello comparison. Lead track "Baby, It's Not Cheating" jangles hard like a Ma Bell plastic telephone. The vocals and music jut with a herky-jerky pace, but it works once Kates finds the right gear.

"My Girl" is immediately catchy with its quick guitar hook, peppy drumming, easy-to-digest lyrics, and Kates' staccato vocal delivery. "Gardener, Gibbet, Misery" slows down the pace and surges with emotional intensity. It's honest and naked, stripped down to a guitar, bass line, and superb drumming that add crisp context between breaks in the singing.

"Flirting With Disaster" rampages like Godzilla moshing across Tokyo in emo-power pop mode as Kates sings about lust for a friend.

"Hey You" ditty bops on a great beat. Kates' choppy guitar buzzes with a hornet's nest of angst as he snips with hurt about the frustration of long distance between two people. These aren't weighty subjects until you realize that something similar happened to you, or might, someday, somewhere. Then, it all makes sense. The drums and bass and guitar kick in behind that near snarl of vocals. Those two words - Hey You - become the most eloquent address, statement, accusation, and pleading ever uttered.

The compact hits keep coming in short order with firecracker pop of "Morning Drive," the soft-edged longing of "Lonely Days," and the poignant narrative of "Skies."

This record rocks with the enthusiasm of a hormonal teenager, but with the perspective of an older brother who has gone down the rocky path of love and loss. Kinda Like Fireworks is a fun, energetic listen that plays out the thrill and ache, the scathing moments and soothing memories, that make us pursue relationships.

- Pete Dulin, present magazine

Kansas City’s music scene is known for its hard-ass bands. Groups as tough as railroad spikes serving up hard metal, hard alt-rock, hard punk and even hard country. It’s a foundation set decades ago as our provincial, Midwest location made it difficult for an act to get known without making some serious noise. In a sea of ultimate fighters, what’s a clean, shiny pop band to do? If it’s The Sexy Accident, they come up with a confusing name and just try their best to let the songwriting do the talking.

With “Kinda Like Fireworks” the Kansas City trio takes a deep breath, shuts their eyes and dives into the mix with short songs, jangly guitars and the least-threatening vocals on this side of the Mississippi. Singer Jesse Kates has kind of a Smoking Popes thing going on, but the group doesn’t go for that huge wall-of-distortion sound. It’s a pregrunge style that evokes the new-wave songwriters of the ’80s, clean-cut pop artists like Marshall Crenshaw, Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello. The upfront production, for better or for worse, emphasizes Kates’ voice as he both nails it and occasionally whiffs it, sometimes on the same track.

The Sexy Accident launches its less-is-more approach from the top, though with mixed results. “Gardner, Gibbet, Misery,” a mostly two-chord wonder, shows how little is needed to fashion a devastating and memorable pop song. Other tracks (“My Girl,” “Hey You”) try to do too much with pop-punk arrangements that are in need of some maturation and better all-around performance. “Stall” in particular is an example of an excellent pop song marred by tepid drumming, an unnecessary and sloppy opening guitar riff and bass-only power-pop stops, which can be effective if everyone joins in but end up sounding like accidental pauses. A looser band could get away with the tempo issues that sprout up all over “Kinda Like Fireworks,” but The Sexy Accident’s concise songwriting can only benefit from some whip cracking in the studio. For instance, maybe someone with a fresh ear who can help the band rework its single-note guitar solo (“Lonely Days”).

With all the cranky posturing in the Kansas City scene, The Sexy Accident, in spite of its ridiculous name, could become our regional answer to the Fountains of Wayne. A charming, clever, nerd-core trio that doesn’t take itself too seriously. “Kinda Like Fireworks” isn’t quite an M-80, but those little paper popper things can be fun too, and a lot less scary.

- Steven Garcia, ink

This is a Kansas City-based band lead by singer/songwriter/guitarist, Jesse Kates. After a great punchy pop debut, the band gets more adult and serious in subject.

The sound recalls Jonathan Coulton meets Elvis Costello. "Baby it's Not Cheating" is a great topical tale, about just thinking about being unfaithful. Jesse sings about someone he met online and convincing himself "it's not cheating, as long as it's fleeting" and hoping it really is a girl online.

The super catchy "My Girl" is immediately accessible with a smooth guitar hook, and tight delivery. The slower tunes like "Gardener, Gibbet, Misery" are emotionally honest in telling the tale of self doubt. Jesse speeds things up with buzzing guitar on "Flirting With Disaster" and "Hey You" brings to mind Weezer or Fountains of Wayne.

Other highlights include the snappy tempo and chord changes of "Morning Drive," and the spiteful "Dancing With My Friends" complete with wild guitar break about stewing over regrets.

A worthy set of emotional pop songs with lyrical bite.

- Aaron Kupferberg, powerpopaholic