As their band name suggests, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. operate at a considerable remove. The band specializes in summery, eager-to-please pop tunes flecked at the edges with elements of psychedelia and electronic music. There’s nothing here that could possibly put off any potential listener with an appreciation for Islands, Grandaddy, or Vampire Weekend. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. even goes so far as to toss in a mostly faithful version of “God Only Knows.” This is a band going to considerable lengths to be as agreeable as possible without investing too much personality or emotion into the project.
This isn’t to say that the Horse Power EP is too detached for any listener to glean any enjoyment out of it. As I said above, this is one eager to please band, and the byproduct of that attitude is some truly catchy music. “Nothing but Our Love” is instantly ingratiating, a sweet-natured paean to a significant other delivered through bubbly synthesizers and beatific harmonies. Though it’s a little regrettable that “Vocal Chords” resorts to the recently trendy idea of using calypso beats, the sprightly chorus more than alleviates that issue.
Then there’s “Simple Girl” which, though it’s a perfectly pleasant song, is little too melodically similar to “Vocal Chords” to distinguish itself. And that brings the end of the original Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. music on the Horse Power EP, leaving the “God Only Knows” cover. The band tries to toss in a little of their own personality into the Beach Boys classic (some reggae guitar, some cosmic arpeggiated synthesizer), but overall, the cover is superfluous, and certainly not worth eating up a quarter of a debut EP.
Generally, what works outweighs what doesn’t, and the Horse Power EP’s brief running time makes tolerating the less successful material not that much of a chore. As a band’s opening salvo, this EP is charming enough to portend good things to come, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. still have a long way to go before they develop their own style.