ATO Records' roster casts a wide net, boasting notable acts ranging from Primus to Trey Anastasio, Lucero to Alabama Shakes. The New York-based label was ahead of the curve in recognizing the potential of Nashville's up-and-comers, signing local favorites including Caitlin Rose, Rayland Baxter and Jonny "Corndawg" Fritz in recent years. On April 2, the artist-development-minded indie officially added locals Kopecky Family Band to that list, with a wide release of their debut full-length Kids Raising Kids, which the group initially released themselves last fall.
Taking the teen pregnancy reference as a given, the title also alludes to the pressures faced by a young band assuming responsibility for itself — in staying safe on the road as well as establishing itself musically. While mixing genres and textures has helped many catch the ear of a notoriously attention-deficient audience, some contemporary artists find their identity and their songs' meaning drowned in a sea of eclectic tastes and Information Age studio technology. With help from producer Konrad Snyder, whose credits include Night Beds' Country Sleep and Owl City's All Things Bright and Beautiful, the Kopecky Family (not technically a family, by the way) manages to avoid nearly all of these pitfalls.
Kids Raising Kids boasts inventive and memorable melodies and big choruses that make an immediate impression, peppered with subtle touches that reward repeated listens. Kelsey Kopecky and Gabe Simon are both gifted vocalists, and capably render themselves vulnerable or powerful as required. On the downside, it's difficult to pick out a thread that instantly identifies the band; you'd be forgiven for mislabeling one of these songs as a lost track from Arcade Fire's 2010 Grammy-winning The Suburbs.
However, even this flaw becomes a strength, as the Kopeckys put their natural ear for arrangement and lineup of talented multi-instrumentalists to excellent use, building an album that sounds full without becoming fatiguing, and reveals emotion without becoming saccharine. They tackle gentle numbers like "Change" and soul rave-ups like "Heartbeat" with an ease and grace acquired only through experience — something the group comes by honestly, as five-year road veterans who were named one of Paste's 25 best touring acts of 2011. The lack of instant recognizability might threaten a lesser band in the long run, but as it stems from doing too many things well, it's not such a bad problem to have on a debut LP.