If you know how to work the angles, you can fit a lot into the container of a three- or four-minute pop song. Graham Hunt understands this. Since he was a teenager, he’s been working at perfecting the form, writing songs that get to the heart of what makes Midwestern guitar pop so essential, and doing it while sidestepping any of the dead-end creative moves that weigh down many in the genre.
Nowhere is this balancing act as clear as on the Madison-based artist’s new LP, Try Not To Laugh. It’s a record where breakbeats coexist with anthemic choruses and synth runs go toe-to-toe with acoustic guitars. From start to finish, the song stays at the forefront.
It’s been the throughline for Hunt, who has played in street punk bands and power pop bands and hardcore bands and the underrated Midnight Reruns, who pushed a distinctively Upper Heartland kind of songcraft, one that led to opening slots for The Replacements and a diehard following of Wisconsin alcoholics.
Do you want some reference points? Well, you don’t need them to enjoy this music, but here goes: this music sounds like the Dust Brothers, if they produced an album for Paul Westerberg; this music sounds like Guided By Voices, if Robert Pollard was more influenced by Happy Mondays than British prog-rock; this music sounds like whatever mildly funky Zoomer indie rock band you want it to sound like, if any of those kids knew how to write a chorus.
Speaking of choruses, the record’s lead single “Emergency Contact” has one so big and satisfying that, in a different era, it would’ve knocked on the door of the Top 40—or at least the CMJ charts. The song’s lyrics, like many of the lyrics on this record, are a collaged rendering of the quotidian Midwest experience, made triumphant through the force of the music. With Try Not To Laugh, Hunt has made an album that is made for living inside of.
“Driving down 94/The power grid’s on fire/Don’t get out of the car until the song is over.”