PopOff! Review: The Hot Takes II

What year is this again? 1986? *looks at calendar* Oh yeah, 2024…

Well I am declaring it the return of the year of 1986.  Who wants to watch The Karate Kid Part II?

With the release of The Hot Takes II EP. The band is back and has doubled down on sounding like some lost forgotten band that all the record store snobs were preaching about to customers as they bought their Van Hagar and U2 records. And it comes with bonus female vocals just like The Human League! Yay!

It must be said lot of acts that people claim are doing the 80s retro sound are merely doing what they THINK the 80s sounded like because they did not live it. Pulling out tired tropes and cliches of the music that have been passed on without actually studying the era. But not The Hot Takes, it’s 1986 and you can see the shoulder pads from space.

It’s just such a joy to hear music that is heaven for bid, simply fun. There is no attitude here other than let’s have some fun. No diss tracks or clap backs or check listing snap backs and back roads. And they’ve done it all with production that has not shoved the vocals into the back and bumped the bass to compete with whatever the next two minute tik-tok clout chasing tune the mainstream is currently pimping out. It is evenly balanced and the drums from Chad Tamashiro really rip on the opening and closing tracks, “Drop Dead On The Dancefloor” and “Cannonball”. Go! Go! Go!

Some of the songs have bridges! What?! Guitar solos! What?! And all the songs have catchy hooks I remember after hearing them. And again like the first EP any of these songs could be a lead single. How is this possible?! What universe is this… Oh yeah… my local music scene. Not a label focus group.

All that is missing is a sax solo on a duet and we have a complete soundtrack to teen party comedy or a film about some beefcake with a flamethrower and grenades and a corvette on a personal vendetta to avenge his police partner or his lover.

Am I painting a clear enough picture?

OK, maybe you did not grow up in the neon-synth-Marlboro-Michelob drenched 1980s, fine. The Killers ring a bell? If you liked The Killers you will like this band. “Drop Dead On The Dancefloor” is a perfect pairing with “Somebody Told Me”. Muse? Yeah a little like that too, (i.e. Barley In Love).

If you’ve read my review of the first EP and the live shows it’s obvious I’m a fan. So this raises the question of bias… Well I LOVED the first EP you can read that praise RIGHT HERE. And rereading that review I see I am repeating myself in many ways. Well, it bares repeating I guess. And on this second EP the band serves up more synth and brings in female vocals from newish member Gillian Eichenberger. On songs like, “Up All Night” and “Heaven On Radio” the female vocals help add that extra elevation to the songs. It is especially noticeable on the old songs when they are done live.

Speaking of “Up All Night”, I am on a not so subtle mission to make this a bay area staple sing-a-long at bars. Like a last song of the night type event where all the drunks and otherwise belt along be it played live or on the jukebox. It is the perfect example of a Bay Area vibe that you won’t find in De Moines or Minneapolis or Portland. New York may be the “City That Never Sleeps” but anyone who has lived in the Bay Area knows we are, “Up All Night”.

Also back to the teen comedy and to the song, “Heaven On Radio”- In my review of the first EP I wrote, “The only thing missing is an epic request line ready prom power ballad.” Well lookie what we have here. Possibly my favorite cut on the album.

*cue the prom scene*

Or works great as an end credit song to my action film I wrote above.

Get the picture. I am LOVING it. And loving it LOUD! LOUDER! Oh- also this, like the first EP, is a night time party album. House party or bar makes no difference. I tried it out during the day and it sounds great during the day but… I quickly pulled the blinds and put on my disco lights. And then I was on a trip blasting Romantics and Hooters and LCD Soundsystem and Muse, St. Lucia, and Pat Benatar, Taylor Swift’s “Style”… And then returning to the EP again to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating what I was hearing.

*takes a breath*

Whew! I am exhausted.

The EP ends with “Cannonball” and this brings me to my one gripe about this EP- the fade out. I am so used to hearing the song live that I have come to expect the bombast of the cold ending. But what a final song! It’s like your friends pulling up in your dad’s Ferrari they stole for the evening and saying, “Get in man it’s time to lock and load!”

It’s like one more shot to blow it all out before we take on the final ninja army.

It’s like the last song at all night rager house party and we all fall to the floor and pass out.

Most importantly it’s like the final fireworks over the bay during the old KFOG KaBoom shows or on NYE by the Bay Bridge.

When I heard new music was coming I was very excited and I am ecstatic to say it delivers in all the ways that made me play out the first EP like it was the only album I owned. But this EP takes things to even bigger arenas. As I said, the more prominent synth and the female backing vocals make this EP sound even fuller and more polished and anthemic. And if you see them live the old songs sound more anthemic too with these additions. Also even though it is only five songs… thought was put into the track order! Who does that anymore?

My one lingering fear is, as they put more great music the live set list will have to be culled! And this means not hearing ALL THE songs live like I have over the past year. And isn’t that a great problem to have. My clear favorites here are, “Up All Night”, “Heaven On Radio”, and “Cannonball” but that’s not saying much with every song being a banger of some variety.

The Hot Takes doubled down on the sound I loved originally while upping the ante.

I am doubling down on what I have been saying “The Hot Takes are my favorite local act” and upping the ante, “The Hot Takes are also my favorite act currently, full stop.”

Every. Single. One.

Bear 2024

Get the album below. And for you vinyl fans they have hot pink wax!


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