Over the laid-back beat and wandering organ of "ADP Blues," Thomas Function singer Joshua Macero's squeaky, nasal delivery is slightly unsettling, but still charming. It's only upon a serious listen that you might realize what he's saying in the practically sing-along chorus: "The only good cop is a dead cop."
Thomas Function walks the line between pop, with its immaculate hooks, and punk, at least in attitude. In the Valley of Sickness, released last fall by Fat Possum, sums up (though perhaps not completely intentionally) the experience -- the innocence, the snottiness, the jokiness, the camaraderie -- of being a teen.
An obvious reference point for the band would be Jonathan Richman, and like Modern Lovers did, Thomas Function fills a unique role in the rock world. On the Fat Possum roster, the band stands apart from blues artists like T-Model Ford and indie It-bands such as Wavves and The Walkmen. With simple, immaculate hooks, informed by early-to-mid-'60s rock 'n' roll, charmingly annoying vocals and no political agenda beyond anti-authoritarianism, the band appeals to the scuzzy garage-rock scene. But something in the band's intentional, sometimes hilarious naïveté appeals to slightly more refined tastes as well. (The band has, for example, cut tracks with Daytrotter, like so many indie darlings.)
In the center of In the Valley of Sickness lies "When I Was a King," the album's longest track (at nearly five minutes) and its most persistently pulsing mid-paced jam. Starting out predictably cheeky ("When I was a king / I slept with a queen), the song progresses the simple, plaintive chorus: "Will you ever let your light shine down over me?"
The bravado, the immature mood swings, the hope to be loved -- it's the whiny id that Thomas Function taps so well that constitutes much of the band's appeal. Less than polished, and lacking the complex instrumentation and effects that so many bands use to connote emotion today, the band strips down both its music and its consciousness -- making rock 'n' roll that's just rock 'n' roll. Thomas Function plays Howlers on Tue., Sept. 7, a show promoted by frequent CP contributor Manny Theiner.
Thomas Function with Thank God, Bad Cop, Christmas. 9 p.m. Tue., Sept. 7. Howlers Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $7. 412-682-0320 or www.howlerscoyotecafe.com