Like a black-and-white striped T-shirt or a pair of white mod pants, Trolley is of a time but timeless. Since 1995 (!) the Milwaukee band has thrown itself willy-nilly into the golden age of psychedelia—a.k.a. the ’60s—to come up with expertly crafted creations that harken back to a hazier time. Sprinkled with liberal doses of ’70s power-pop and even ’80s new wave, albums like 2003’s Last Chance Dance and 2011’s Things That Shine And Glow have long established Trolley as the city’s premier rock-solid champion of long-lost rock. The group’s latest release, Caught In The Darkness, is yet another notch in its tastefully retro belt, and one of its best.
At this point, the members of Trolley—guitarist-vocalist Paul J. Wall, guitarist-vocalist Mike Perotto, bassist-vocalist Terry Hackbarth—could likely write a winning ’60s-indebted earworm in their collective sleep. But that doesn’t make Darkness any less enjoyable: the pitch-perfect opening title track bounces along at a terrific clip, mashing up somber lyrics with sunny sounds and scoring big on a simple but effective bass swoop from Hackbarth. “Thursday Girl” shows hints of ELO strings, “Step Into The Clear” adds tinkling bells and minor-key chord changes to the mix, and the opening guitar line of “We All Fall Down” channels the ’90s work of fellow period-devotees Apples In Stereo. Finally, the snaking seven-minute closer “Take My Love” plays like a greatest hits compilation of everything that’s come before it—both on Darkness and in Trolley’s entire career.
What’s interesting, then, is that two of the Darkness’ best tracks are its least characteristic. “She Has It All” vies for title of album standout with a catchy stoner vibe married to surprisingly fuzzed-out production, while the straight-up awesome “She Helps Me Celebrate” ditches the ’60s vibe altogether for an unmistakable early-Elvis Costello sound. Far from calculated outliers, however, both tracks are a nice reminder of just how deep Trolley can dive, and just how varied its sparkling, bright-eyed sound can be.
Trolley will celebrate the release of Caught In The Darkness Saturday, December 5 at Linneman’s. Liv Mueller and Great Lake Drifters will play in support. The $10 cover charge includes a copy of the CD. Trolley will also perform for 88Nine’s 414 Music Live show Thursday, December 17.