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HOOKS and Harmonies 

The Sidekicks' new album benefits from a lineup change

Sidekicks drummeR MATT Climer says his band's sophomore album is "way different, but it's still us."

That statement aptly describes the upcoming Weight of Air. It would be difficult for the Sidekicks — Climer, singer-guitarist Steve Ciolek, bassist Josh Henry and guitarist Matt Scheuermann — to not be the Sidekicks after playing together for six years. So, yeah, album No. 2 still has archetypes snagged from Americana and punk rock, and Ciolek's singalong-ready melodies are intact. But you'd be doing this band a disservice to continue calling them "folk-punk."

Songs like the instantly catchy "Looking" and "Almost the Same" are cut from the same cloth as power-pop heavyweights Elvis Costello and Ted Leo, while the blues-based "Static Mouth" sounds like it was stolen from the bar-band rule book the Hold Steady have spent all-nighters cramming from. Then there's the restrained, emotive and wide-eyed tunes "Day-Staring" and "Small." These are the sort of smart and beautiful songs you'd expect from a world-weary troubadour, not a songwriter who isn't even old enough to hang out in bars.

"We are constantly changing in terms of what interests and excites us in life," says Ciolek. "That is reflected in our music. I think we improved our strong points but also didn't want to settle on a formula. The new songs are a closer reflection of myself as a person than the old [songs], and they convey the ideas behind them most clearly."

Part of the band's evolution can be credited to new guitarist Matt Scheuermann, who also fronts local rock act No Target Audience. He replaced original guitarist Brandon Petrick.

"I think the addition of Matt was a huge reason for the direction we went on the new record," says Ciolek. "Our musicianship has improved, but the biggest addition is his singing ability. We can now pull off a lot more vocal harmonies and hooks, which is awesome."

Weight of Air's opening track, the maudlin acoustic vignette "Let It Breathe," makes this immediately clear. Ciolek and Scheurmann wrap their voices together with precise and powerful warmth that only the best vocal collaborations can offer. Elsewhere, Scheurmann's backing vocals add depth, emphasis and nuance.

But don't let the talk of maturing and horizon-broadening mislead you. The Sidekicks still cling to a punk-rock ethos and a D.I.Y. aesthetic. Weight of Air was recorded in four days. This includes a marathon 20-plus-hour session at Akron's Majic Child Studios that yielded all the record's instrumentals. The Sidekicks aren't headed for rock-star egomania or ostentatious experimentation anytime soon.

"We didn't want to spend a lot of time perfecting every little note," says Ciolek. "Instead, we wanted the album to have a natural and live feel to it. So the short recording time was sort of on purpose."

Six years together may have made it possible to record an album in four days, but it also seems to have created a singular vision. Ciolek's summation of the band's new record even echoes his drummer's.

"We've continued to develop and progress as musicians," he says. "But we didn't want to forget the things that originally excited us about playing."

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