After a decade as The Rock*A*Teens' frontman, Chris Lopez is striking out on his own—with a few guest musicians—under the moniker Tenement Halls. Because Lopez can't fight his propensity to make a big noise in a big space, Tenement Halls' debut, Knitting Needles & Bicycle Bells, sounds a lot like a stately, plump version of The Rock*A*Teens, but the illusion of elegance matters with a musician so typically tuned to the raw. Knitting Needles songs like "Charlemagne" and "When The Swifts Come Home"—though they're about crackpot exes and southern layabouts—have a grand, romantic sweep. Even the album-opening "Silver From The Silt," with its chants of "Just quit!" and its slow-swinging beat, makes disengagement sound heroic.
Lopez is one of the last men standing from an early-'90s Atlanta music scene that boasted bands like The Jody Grind, The Opal Foxx Quartet, and Redneck Greece Delux—all acts distinguished by outsized personalities, thrift-store duds, hick pride, and a shout-to-the-balcony earnestness. For a long time, Lopez was more a fellow-traveler than a full-blown participant in the style of his times, in part because he liked to hide behind echo and fuzz. Tenement Halls revives the high drama and glorious hopelessness of Lopez's lost generation, with dewy-eyed pleas like "Up & Over Thee Turnstiles" and "Plenty Is Never Enough," which toss high, curving melodies into heaps of junky instrumental clutter. Knitting Needles & Bicycle Bells hits a precipitous peak with "As Long As It Takes," where Lopez warns the listener that the world may be doomed, but he will remain true. He hollers the chorus—"I can wait all day"—like he's heading out the studio door to start waiting right now.