When you can't say it with words, flowers or a brick to the head, say it with power pop. Just make sure you get the right kind, i.e., from a certified powerpopist. After all, you don't want it turning brown and withering — or, worse, glowering in the corner all emolike — a day after delivery. Kansas City band Jackie Carol definitely has the certification, and the band's debut, Check, Check, delivers the hooky goods. Hi! My name is Jackie and I/I died young, yells lead singer and guitarist Nathan Ellis on the opening track, "Hi, My Name Is Jackie." It's a feedback-broiled introduction to an album that glances back to Big Star but keeps its gaze mostly on newer acts such as Fountains of Wayne and near-contemporaries the Get Up Kids. The opening song is also a tribute to the inspiration behind the band's name, which belonged to a late uncle of Ellis' who was a juke-joint country singer around Missouri in the '70s.
Ellis' previous band, the Casket Lottery, also had a song about Uncle Jack ("The Bridge") and worked a similar sound — boyish vocals over distorted guitars — to some fame around the region. Lighter than the Lottery, Jackie Carol is less jagged, raw and vocally abrasive. Check even has gentle ballads, including "My Godfather James," in which Ellis' bare, calm voice and spare acoustic guitar blend into a drum-machine-paced swell at the climax. But it's the ballsy guitars and sweet harmonies that make Check, Check worth checking out. The album hits its stride on track four, "No Fiction," with guitar riffs that explode like fireworks between the laid-back verses until they unite like a mini-Fourth of July finale on the chorus. And the bridge? Fucking textbook. Best of all, "No Fiction" isn't the only radio-ready track on this dynamic, well-crafted shoulder punch of an album.