The Philadelphia quintet Free Energy has a fondness for brash ’70s classic rock, ’80s pop and peppy’90s buzz bin fodder. But on Love Sign, the band’s second album, these touchstones amount to more than just a hazy nostalgia trip. That’s mainly because Free Energy executes its brand of retro-shtick without a trace of distance. “Girls Want Rock” is skinny-tie power-pop full of enthusiastic handclaps, falsetto oohs. squirrelly keyboards and zero air quotes; the Fleetwood Mac-esque “Hold U Close” is a heartfelt plea for romantic vulnerability driven by water falling harmonies; and the keyboard-slathered croon “True Love” is a straight-ahead ’80s R&B slow jam. Even the songs where Free Energy channels Bachman-Turner Overdrive (the cowbell-augmented “Electric Fever” and “Backscratcher”) sound gleeful and sincere.
Credit for Love Sign‘s expansive sound goes to producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, The Thermals), who’s adept at coaxing bright, vivid sonics from the bands he produces. Agnello refines Free Energy’s sound into something crisper and more focused than their 2010 debut, Stuck On Nothing, allowing for little embellishments like horns (“Time Rolls On”) or arena-ballad guitar solos (the moody “Dance All Night”). At the end of the day, Free Energy arent getting any check marks for originality with Love Sign; the album’s strong songwriting ensures the band doesn’t have to.