Company towns hardly exist anymore. The relentless cycle of closures, liquidations and economic diversification has reduced many towns' dependence on a single business entity. But back in the day, townsfolk were proud they produced something the world, or at least the U.S., appreciated. It was a source of local pride. Even so, not everyone was enthused at the prospect of working for the same company their parents had. Longwave's vocalist/guitarist Steve Schiltz was just such a malcontent. From Rochester, NY home of the Kodak factory, Schiltz got a guitar from his father and began writing songs. But the songs had to wait. Schiltz met drummer Mike James and the two, together and separately, went through a series of cover bands.
Eventually, Schiltz moved to NY where he started Longwave with bassist Dave Marchese. Having proved to be a hard case in his native California, guitarist Shannon Ferguson followed friends to NY. He set up a small recording studio and it was there, after he was recruited as Longwave's second guitarist that the group laid down tracks for their debut "Endsongs."
Meanwhile, James was still in Rochester, having temporarily given up drums for guitar, slugging away in a Punk band. His group even opened a couple Longwave shows. As fate would have it, Longwave's drummer Jeremy, let his discontent rule and bailed giving only a few days notice. James was called. He completed the tour and stayed on.
Here's where connections pay off. Longwave acquired a manager, Jim Merlis. His company also handled publicity for The Strokes. The Strokes' manager offered Longwave a couple opening slots. Longwave's performances led to opening the entire Strokes tour. In turn, the exposure resulted in label offers and a deal. "Strangest Things" hit in '03.
With the supporting tour for "The Strangest Things" completed the group returned to the studio to record a follow-up. But Marchese and James departed. Schiltz and Ferguson shared bass duties while Nic Brown (who had toured with the band) sat in on drums for '05's "There's A Fire." Jeff Sheinkopf was also added on keyboards (and guitar) but didn't last long.
Morgan King and Jason Molina were eventually installed on bass and drums, respectively, for the group's fourth album, the '08 effort, "Secrets Are Sinister."
For anyone missing the '80s but can't stand another worn-out spin with Modern English, Longwave's "Strangest Things" may be the answer. At their best, they take '80s styles and mash them together. "Everywhere I Turn" has a Psychedelic Furs airiness riding a U2 bass line. The jangling "Pool Song" allows Schiltz to affect perfect '80s intonations. The only misstep is a trek on Radiohead's turf with "Meet Me At The Bottom." Radiohead can, at times, manage to be interesting, but this track is just dismal.
The title track on "There's A Fire," "Fall On Every Whim" and "Underneath You Know The Names" are energetic shots that show the group's major strengths - atmospheric guitars, chiming in from the ozone; Schiltz's plantive vocals; and a propulsive rhythm section keeping it together and moving forward. One ballad, "Underworld," is exceptional but another, "The Flood," is simply dreary. Fortunately, the dead-end ballads are omitted on "Secrets Are Sinister."
Longwave has a knack for picking up styles ranging from Flock Of Seagulls ("No Direction") to Billy Idol ("It's True") and making it sound fresh - no small trick. And Longwave doesn't have to be operating at full-tilt to have an impact. The mid-tempo "Eyes Like Headlights" is the standout track on "Secrets Are Sinister."