About two years after the release of their debut album (which is a marked acheivement, at a certain level – many bands go many years between releases, in their early development) the Full Counts made a blistering return with Next Up in 2019. The improvements to the band’s sound are obvious and consistent; now with a firmer lineup (Mark Urbano joined full-time on guitar, pushing Eric Vermillion over to vocals and bass, and Ethan Winograd is in on guitar and organ full-time), the band emerges with a thicker, punchier sound and the difference is a stronger offering in general; there is no arguing or denying it.
As soon as drummer Mike Quinlan cracks the rim on his snare to open the A-side of Next Up with “She Said” (and is then followed by guitarist Mark Urbano and bassist Eric Vermillian), listeners will find that they’re instantly called to attention and inspired to follow along with the band as they produce a beautiful and sort of jangly permutation of power pop. Other than Vermillian being noticeably flat in his vocal delivery, , the song sparkles as it croses an indie rock shimmer in the guitar performance with a solid and very punk-infused low end, and informs the rockier delivery of “Not Tonight” (which follows it).
The interesting thing about “Not Tonight” is just how closely it mirrors so many aspects of classic Canadian indie rock. Right away, those familiar with the form may find themselves humming “Cigarette Dangles” or “Bleed A Little While Tonight” (both by Lowest Of The Low) absently as they listen, and will only stop when they try to figure out what inspired it or why indeed they began.
The similar vibe of “I Know” follows “Not Tonight” before collapsing brilliantly into the punkier push of “Let’s Go” before finally crashing into grace with “Hold Your Hand.” Now, here, The Full Counts really acheive something incredible to close the side; while Vermillian’s vocal remains ever-so-slightly off-key for the duration of the song, that shortcoming is overshadowed smoothly with the best lead guitar performance of the entire album as well as the gorgeous, melodic nature of the rhythm guitar. For three and a half minutes, listeners will have to listeners will have to admit they’re trying to stare through a sheen of hearts and stars until the song ends and the side needs changing.
There’s no way to deny that the B-side of Next Up starts on a weaker note with “Song #5” (which happens to be track six in the runtime – who thinks these things are a good idea?), but there is improvement to be found as “Don’t Waste My Time” grunts and grinds its way along thereafter, and then Vermillion ups the Presence setting on “I’m On The Outside” to mark the song as the band’s best attempt at a Stooges song to date.
Granted, the B-side of Next Up isn’t without its shortcomings (“Another Way” just feels stale as it staggers its way along its course in the side’s late playing, helped not at all by another poor vocal performance from Vermillion – now augmented by a couple of doubling effects), but it does end surprisingly well with the indie pop-infused anthem “Oh Whoa Oh”i – which is laced with the perfect amount of Lemonheads-esque indifference coupled with the perfect amount of melody from the same. Vermillion’s desire to make good (scan the lyrics) proves to be both infectious and the thing which gets the song over in the end, and will leave listeners smiling, as it fades.
…And as happens so often with bands who are still working (as of this writing), this story is unfinished. Next Up was released in 2019 so, if the timetable on which bands normally operate holds up, it will likely be another two or two and a half years (factoring in time for CoVid) before fans get another chapter in The Full Counts’ story. That’s simultaneously as frustrating as it is scintillating; on one hand, the story ends just as it’s getting good – but the upside is that may yet be more to say