In 1977, a Dutch band with the Milan-sounding name Gruppo Sportivo showed up out of nowhere with a New Wave album released on Sire Records, home of the Ramones; the lead singer wore water goggles in the cover photo. Subsequently, precious few Dutch New Wave albums have materialized.
Now comes Amsterdam’s Alamo Race Track, a vividly hairy, tulip-free quartet. Had they skedaddled out of England, say, 30 years ago, they might’ve been pub-rockers. But now, with the band’s clip for “Black Cat John Brown” (the bright, funny pop-blues tune that kicks off and lends its title to their second album) a YouTube hit, they inhabit the world of laid-back European living rooms and coffeehouses. Where, as it happens, bands go alternately bluesy and New Wave instead of, per the U.S. coffeehouse norm, folky and earnest. Still, there are no water goggles, no syndrums or eyeliner to be found in ART’s video for current single “The Northern Territory,” wherein they stalk around a mud-colored Antwerp of unsure urban spaces and dilapidated buildings.
Black Cat John Brown is full of similarly spacey grit. Aside from immortalizing one cat’s life, songs celebrate Paris hangouts (“Kiss Me Bar”), argue with girls (“Lee J. Cobb Is Screaming a Lot”), or analyze loneliness and truth (“My Heart”). Melodies are buoyant yet kind of cranky; rhythms flare, cushioning the tunes in a skipping groove. Frontman Ralph Mulder’s clear singing is matter-of- fact musical. It’s all very indie, clued-in, determined, and held deliberately apart from the usual London-New York-Tokyo nexus. In European terms, it’s all very Ohio.