TheCircus brings old school swagger to the new school pop on self-titled debut
If you’ve followed TU for awhile, you may have seen a name, Jon Atwell, pop up a few times. Last year, we liked his single “Black Cat,” so much that it made our “Founder’s 100” list at the end of the year.
The singer-songwriter has re-emerged this year alongside his pal Spencer Knefelkamp with a creation that brings a fresh twist to the ever-popular electropop trend. When I think of Jon Atwell, I think of a guy who adds charm to his songwriting and puts on his gameface in a way that appeals to many different audiences. Spencer undoubtedly lends some polish to Atwell’s songwriting, resulting in an album that flourishes with each beat and melody.
“You keep me coming back for more…” Atwell muses in “Across the Room.” It’s a topic that has been touched upon by nearly every songwriter, it seems – unrequited love. If there was a music video for this song, I would imagine it to be filmed in roaring 20’s style black and white, with neon colors splashing across the viewer’s field of vision the second that synth kicks in after the chorus. This juxtaposition really nails the overall vibe of the album.
“Who’s gonna love you?” is a stand out line in “Queen of the Town,” my personal favorite track on the album. The chorus gives way to a massive hook reminiscent of Imagine Dragons. I also hear a bit of LANY here. In a live show there definitely need to be floor toms everywhere, and not just during one climatic moment toward the end of the song.
Atwell knows how to tackle cliches of love songs in ways that makes the most of them. Songs like “When It Starts” I’m certain I’ve heard somewhere before, but not in a plagiaristic way. It’s more of a “not-reinventing the wheel” feeling I have, but if TheCircus gains momentum that isn’t going to matter. The melodies are catchy and on point, and the lyrics are memorable. TheCircus isn’t out to win over music critics at Pitchfork and NPR – they are out to write fun tunes and probably make some ladies swoon along the way. But this 28 year old dude has no issue admitting that I’ll crank some of these tunes in my car any day of the week!
Another thought crossed my mind while writing this review. When I was listening to “Goodbye,” it occurred to me that sometimes the best melody for a song is the simple, seemingly obvious one. In a world where the music market is more saturated than ever, it can seem like you need to be more outside the box than everyone else to stand out. This mindset can leave behind some deceptively simple approaches to songwriting, and though I’m no songwriter, I reckon TheCircus has discovered this.