Strange Ranger’s existence (so far) has been marked by restlessness and change.
The band’s founding members, Isaac Eiger and Fred Nixon, have already called three states home since they initially bonded over their mutual love of Modest Mouse at a Bozeman, M.T. high school. In 2011, they moved to Portland, O.R., where they plugged into a fertile DIY rock scene, and just in the past year, they packed up their bags again, this time to Philadelphia.
Along the way, they changed their band’s name (from Sioux Falls to Strange Ranger), as well as their musical style from release to release. Their 2015 full-length, Rot Forever, is packed with jittery post-punk jams, while 2017’s Daymoon is prettier and more patient, with a bit of shoegazey haze surrounding the songs.
Depending on your perspective, then, it is either surprising or it’s expected that Strange Ranger’s new album Remembering the Rockets finds the band settling into a sound and settling down. It’s not like Eiger and Nixon were necessarily immature songwriters before, but it is still striking to hear a twentysomething indie rock band singing about life at its most mundane (doing the dishes) and its most consequential (having kids in the face of a climate crisis) against a backdrop of easygoing pop-rock.
On album opener “Leona,” they bring together jangling guitars, a roller-coaster vocal hook and some perfect, Pavement-esque “ba da da da da” parts. “Wanting sex and having kids and feeling bored with violence,” Eiger sings near the end of the song, adding, “It comes to me and finally I fear it.” Later, the fear loses out to his primal urge to have a family. “I walk to work in fading light, daddies with their kids / I still want that,” he sings on the loping, electro-tinged “Planes in Front of the Sun,” one of the album’s best tracks.
In interviews, Eiger and Nixon have cited The Cure as a heavy influence on Remembering the Rockets, and the sparkling, melancholy “Sunday” could sit comfortably between “Friday I’m In Love” and “Just Like Heaven” on a compilation of Robert Smith’s greatest hits. Meanwhile, songs like “Nothing Else to Think About” and “Beneath the Lights” strike a balance that The Cure mastered: They feel buoyant and celestial, yet tethered to our corporeal world by a sturdy low end. The broader use of electronic elements—by Eiger, Nixon, producer Dylan M. Howe and Harrison Smith (aka avant-pop artist Turtlenecked)—is a significant and welcome development on Remembering the Rockets.
Elsewhere, “Message To You” is the album’s most convincing journey to the center of an electro-pop dreamworld, with Fiona Woodman taking diaphanous lead vocal duties over an aggressive programmed rhythm. The gorgeous “Ari Song” is a lonely man’s lament that recalls fellow mellow dudes, Real Estate. And the album’s only real weak patch is the back-to-back sequence of “Ranch Style Home” and “Pete’s Hill.” The former is uncharacteristically grating, while the latter never really forms into a recognizable shape, despite a robust bass line.
Remembering the Rockets ends on a strong note, however. “Living Free” is another one of those tunes that feels like a head full of clouds built on top of a rolling army tank. With synths and guitars streaked across thunderous drum sounds, Eiger returns to the familiar theme of wanting a family in confusing and violent times. Then comes “Cold Hands Warm Heart,” a classic come-down album closer with Nixon playing piano and Eiger finding just the right words to summarize life in 2019: “Still living our lives,” he sings, warbling slightly. “It feels so loud, but it’s alright.”
After a decade of changing—their name, their home, their art and so on—the guys in Strange Ranger sound like they’ve finally figured out what they want on Remembering the Rockets. Now comes the hard part.