Album Of The Week: 2nd Grade Hit To Hit

2nd Grade’s songs are short and insistent, like they were designed for the attention span of someone that’s actually in the second grade. There are 24 songs on the band’s new album, Hit To Hit, and most of them hover around the two-minute mark. There’s little traditional verse-chorus-verse structure to them, but they beg for repetition.

Peter Gill, the project’s leader, has a clear affinity for songwriters like Big Star’s Alex Chilton, who wrote songs that were simple on the surface but driven by complex emotions, and Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, who has spent his prolific career arguing for a quantity-based approach to music. There are also echoes of Quarterbacks, the upstate New York band that released an outpouring of songs in the middle of the last decade before fizzling out, songs that were spilling over with hooks and never stayed in one place for very long.

Gill comes from a corner of the Philadelphia music scene that makes songs that are yearning and sincere and a little twee. For his first full-band album, he recruited members that have played with Remember Sports, Friendship, and Free Cake For Every Creature — all bands that know something about catchy and endearing songwriting. Gill’s debut as 2nd Grade, 2018’s Wish You Were Here Tour, was half the length of Hit To Hit but still felt like it had an abundance of ideas. He doubles down on that with this album, every song pulling the band into a different direction.

There’s a little something for everyone on Hit To Hit — fuzzy surf-rock jams, twangy tender-hearted acoustic strummers, messy punk scrawls. The only thing really tying them together are that they’re all persistent earworms. The songs are absurdly fun when they’re not heartbreaking. Sometimes they’re both at the same time. Gill’s music is steeped in sentimentalism and escapism, his songs are a way to leave behind the everyday drudgery and make the most banal part of life sparkle. “My Bike,” a touching ode to his favored mode of transportation, sags and lopes in circles as it creates a capsule memory of just a couple minutes in time while you’re zooming around. “When I’m on my bike, everyone can just take a hike,” he sings. “When I’m on my bicycle, yeah, I never fall/ And if I do, I won’t get hurt at all. It sounds peaceful and placid and invincible.

From the project’s name on down, Gill exhibits a fixation on childhood when things seemed like they were much easier. One track turns a kindergarten repetition into a roaring and goofy chorus: “A, B, C and 1, 2, 3/ If you want my love you gotta run with me,” it goes. “D, E, F and 4, 5, 6/ Baby, moving on is how I get my kicks.” It’s as comforting as your favorite junk food, a smile-inducing pleasure that’s easy to singalong to because it feels like you already know the words. There are songs that reference Starkist and cherry cola and rewatchable movies. He cycles through classic American pasttimes: cutting class and endless summers and “My Sharona,” and he puts them all through a blender of nostalgic rock music.

Adult life can be more complicated, but the band approaches it with a sense of humor. Opening song “W-2″ is all about how annoying it is to wade through the bureaucracy of taxes. “The IRS comes knocking right on cute/ Gotta fill out a W-2 just to talk to you/ 1099 to ride! 1099 to ride!” Gill sings, performing the admirable task of turning boring forms into a searingly memorable hook. On “Velodrome,” he locks into how overwhelming the present day can feel, with a punchline about the incessant pace of the news cycle: “Seems like everyone I know is in trouble/ Seems like everyone has nowhere to go/ The country lives on despite our frustration/ Built a vibrator from a radio.”

Hit To Hit is a lot to take in by virtue of having 24 different tracks and even more ideas than that bouncing around, but the band provide a lot of easy access points. Each song presents a little nugget of an idea, like surfing through the radio dial and hearing snippets of other people’s hits. The title Hit To Hit is a joke about the breakneck speed and catchiness of these songs, but it could also be read as a suggestion to take life’s punches as they’re thrown at you, to never wallow in one emotion for too long. These songs provide glimpses into a lot of different feelings, from frustration to wistfulness to boundless glee.

One idea that Gill comes back to a lot is the idea of community, of feeling like you’re supported by those around you. “There’s always someone, it’s true/ Who’s trying to do right by you,” he sings on one of the tracks. “‘Cause to them you’re important.” It’s those kind of simple sentiments that 2nd Grade excel at, reminders that the whole world isn’t out to get you. Sometimes life can be as easy as a good song that takes you somewhere else for just a little bit, even if it’s only for a minute at a time.

Hit To Hit is out 5/29 via Double Double Whammy. Pre-order it here. And, as a bonus, you can also listen to the whole thing now:

Other albums of note out this week:
• Lady Gaga’s as-yet-unheard Chromatica.
• Nicolas Jaar’s third new album of the year, Telas.
• Fucked Up side project Jade Hairpins’ energetic scrawl Harmony Avenue.
• Deerhoof’s collagist simmer Future Teenage Cave Artists.
• Painted Zeros’ dreamy and gorgeous When You Found Forever.
• Chelsea Wolfe and Jess Gowrie’s debut collaboration as Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery.
• Xibalba’s brutal Años En Infierno.
• Christian Lee Hutson’s folky and melodic Beginners.
• Nicole Atkins’ swooning and romantic Italian Ice.
• Sweet Spirit’s dancey and insistent Trinidad.
• The Memories’ lo-fi Pickles & Pies.
• PINS’ sleek Hot Slick.
• El-P’s original soundtrack for the movie Capone.
• Flying Lotus’ instrumental version of his last album Flamagra.
• Joyce Manor’s rarity compilation Songs From Northern Torrance.
• Baths’ outtakes collection Pop Music/False B-Sides II.
• Iggy Pop’s The Bowie Years box set.
• Esther Rose’s My Favorite Mistakes EP.
• Behemoth’s A Forest EP.

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