Like a great shadow, the echo of one’s environment casts a large silhouette. For Denver Dalley, the figure overlooking him is the vastly tranquil state of Nebraska; home to some of indie rock’s most notable names. So it is going to take a grand effort to overcome the burden of being a young musician from Omaha, and a greater one to slip away from the Conor Obersts and Tim Kashers of the locale. Dalley makes it no easier on himself by tracing well worn paths made by his state counterparts – sharing a project with Oberst being his biggest aesthetic hurdle. Yet it is clear that Dalley yearns to break out on his own; not to cast a shadow, but to shine his own light on the soul-breaking misery of both Bright Eyes’ and Cursive’s immensely tortured sound. With the release of the Statistics’ self titled EP a little while ago, proof was abound that he was eager to do so.
As clear as the summer sky, Dalley proved that his musical horizon gleams far differently from that of Oberst and Kasher; instead lining up to more ephemeral, undulating constructs made from synthesizers and other less organic tools. With Leave Your Name, he reaches far from the artful and plows his way into sounds made by sweeping melodies, stocky riffs and enough spatial arrangements to propel him to the moon. “Sing a Song”, “The Grass is Always Greener” and “Reminisce” all trundle down this road – roaring guitars, weaving basslines and sprinkles of electronic gadgetry that swathes into one breezy, atmospheric sound. It is perhaps the album’s finest quality, one that is not without its faults. Crafting songs to become more than just single compositions is by nature a striving objective, but an aspiration that suffers from Dalley’s personal “greenness” – his undeniable youthful naiveté, his biggest drawback.
While many have said Conor Oberst’s lyrical and musical ability is years ahead of his time, Dalley will earn no such praise. Musically sound, his failure to evoke even the slightest notions of lyrical grandeur plagues Leave Your Name with that sense of “he still has got a lot to learn.” In “Sing a Song”, he calls out his critics and reviewers (not a good idea son) with obtuse observations of those who will undoubtedly scrutinize his work, “The songs are all done / and as they go down on tape / the critics click their pens / comparisons made in name / dropped in all bold face / to sound like his best friends,” tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but rather weak and trivial.
The rather obvious, but vehemently denied, undertones of the “The Grass is Always Greener” speak to a “rocker who can’t choose between life at home and the excitement of the road” – and indeed first impressions say, “Disparage Conor! Disparage! Censure!”, but the casual lyricism, “back at home now / sees old friends and dates a girl / says he’s happy but he wants to go on tour / and so it goes the grass is always greener” and ambiguous tone does enough to avoid clearly marking it as diatribe towards Oberst (Dalley denies it has anything to do with Oberst but c’mon! Don’t you see? Dalley is upset because the rise of Bright Eyes cut short the ascension of Desaparecidos – elementary my dear reader).
Perhaps his most futile effort comes in “Hours Seemed Like Days,” where he seemingly provides play-by-play on society’s technological advances, “CDs skipped and vinyl’s back / MP3s and not 8-track … Beta turned to DVD / claymation is gone and now its all become CG / movie sets don’t exist but there’s always a blue screen,” without really having any sort of purpose or position. Indeed, we were once cave men and at one point, we felt that the feudal system was the way to go, communism seemed like a good idea and … Where’s the stop button?
Nevertheless, Dalley’s words could use an overhaul of sorts but thankfully, while his rhymes border on inane, his music can often be lucid and distinctive. The three abovementioned tracks all boast musical arrangements that more than make up for the poor lyrical expression. On more than one instance on Leave Your Name, songs are interludes (less than a minute instrumentals) bridging the album’s more filled offerings and avoid the pitfall that is his very thin lyric book. And while stunted on several occasions, Dalley seems able enough to pull away from his brethren. His first full length effort, boosted by his ability to paint images with his music rather than his words is keen assurance that he is one of Omaha’s brightest sons.
(Jade Tree Records)
Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers
The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance
It would seem that the current US administration has proven to be fertile fields for political punks. If there is a positive to have come out of the past few years, it is in the form of angry punk rock records. The aptly titled Thoughts and Prayers, the new record by Good Riddance, could very well be the best of them. For many like myself, Good Riddance was the gateway to a world of punk rock socio-political commentary; wrapped in aggressive, melodic hardcore that opened your mind as much as it punched a hole in the wall. 1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and the really terrific 1998 record Ballads from the Revolution, were eye-opening propositions for a wide-eyed kid. Good Riddance resonated because their songs were hard-hitting commentary that sounded like broken-hearted punk rock songs. They sang intelligently about inequality, human despair, and the sometimes broken system in which we live in. And when their broken-hearted punk rock songs weren’t about society and politics, they were broken-hearted punk rock songs about broken hearts (don’t think there have been love songs as good in the genre as “Jeannie” and “Not With Him”).
Four years since their comeback record, Peace In Our Time, we get the much more furious Thoughts and Prayers. 12 songs of trademark breakneck melodic hardcore that talks about the divisive current political climate without going as far as saying things like “Trump sucks”. But that’s never been the Good Riddance way. Vocalist and chief lyricist Russ Rankin has always found a way to express his anger and disappointment with poise and intelligence- sounding more like a well-read poet than a man yelling on a street corner.
In the track “Don’t Have Time”, he sings about the futility of repeating history to trumpet nationalism; “And those same old fears arise / With eyes too drawn to counteract / The ghost in you comes rushing back / Too caustic to subside / Just what have we done? / We killed a mother’s only son / Just to remain at number one“. And lyrically, much of takes a similar route of well-written stanzas that question a lot of what is going on in the world at the present time. Songs like the opening “Edmund Pettus Bridge” (let’s hope everyone knows the significance of this landmark), replete with Michael Douglas Wall Street sound byte, sings of social inequality but does it with a trace of hope. While songs like “The Great Divide” are an example of melodic hardcore’s finest moments; unrelenting sonic pummeling that is as melodic as it is potent. “Wish You Well” takes cues from Good Riddance’s “softer” tones of catchy choruses and mid-tempo verses; akin to the track “Saccharine” (from 2003’s Bound by Ties of Blood and Affection). Perhaps the best thing about the 12 songs here is that they are all very succinct, potent, with rarely a moment of filler. The album is consistently good, and while it rarely deviates from the Good Riddance sound, it never lacks in the fire and fury we’ve come to expect.
The album itself SOUNDS fantastic, credit again to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room for their production. The guitars rip at the right levels while the percussion work hits just right. The mixing levels are as close to perfect as you can get without any one element dominating over another- a constant the band have found since 1999’s Operation Phoenix (no surprise, the first of their albums to have been produced at the Blasting Room).
The appeal of Good Riddance has always been two-fold. Firstly, their music has shown steadfast quality, and the albums have found longevity due to the way Rankin and company write their songs. With lyrics referring to and talking about a multitude of humanist issues without having to directly reference them, they remain political, timely, writing music as urgent as it was through the 90s as it is today. That may be a sad indictment of society itself, but it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness and influence. Rankin himself has said that their music may not have changed the world per se, they continue to open eyes and minds. This writer can attest to the latter- and the importance of that can’t be underlined enough. Their early discography spoke to my generation about life, self, and the interconnected reality of the world we live- no matter how hard to try not to believe it. Thoughts and Prayers is a furious, timely, and potent slab of hard-hitting melodic hardcore and shows that the fire clearly still burns as passionately for Good Riddance as it did all those years ago. And perhaps it’ll be what A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and Ballads From the Revolution was to me for a whole new generation.
Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness
From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities
When it comes to Bay Area thrash metal, there are two bands that sit atop the mountain forever entwined to its history; Metallica and Exodus. Both bands linked together by Kirk Hammett, both bands crucial to the Bay Area’s most destructive form of music. Exodus may not have their name in lights as Metallica does, but Exodus’ influence cannot be mistaken- and many point to them as being the one true progenitor of Bay Area thrash. Hatriot, a band that was started by Exodus vocalist Steve Souza in 2011, are a real chip off the ol’ block. Surprisingly, it isn’t just musically that Hatriot follows suit from Exodus, its a family thing too. While Steve Souza left Hatriot in 2015, his sons Nick and Cody continue on percussions and guitars with the latter taking on vocal duties once the older Souza returned to Exodus.
Hatriot does more than just follow on the Exodus path; they’ve loudly carved their own slice of the thrash pie. Led by Kosta Varvatakis shredding guitar work and Cody Souza’s blistering (sometimes ominous) vocal work, Hatriot may have found their Fabulous Disaster, ironically, also three albums in.
From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities; machine gun percussion work (I’m a sucker for some great double bass drums), shredding guitars, soaring solos, and vocals that does the growling well, and the screaming even better. Tracks like “Organic Remains” and the blistering “Carnival of Execution” showcase the band’s ability to craft songs that are equal parts urgency and solid musicianship. Thematically, From Days Unto Darkness covers the usual thrash metal spread; the end times, death, destruction, and humanity’s failing graces- all done with equal breakneck, ear piercing destruction sonically. “World, Flesh & Devil” is perhaps the album’s best outing- a raging beast of a song, that if carnage could be written in music form, this is it incarnate. At 4:26, it is one of the shorter tracks of the release, but much of the album features in at the 6-7 minute mark- a trademark of thrash metal’s desire to not only showcase talent but to do it over extended periods.
What the album lacks perhaps is that one magnum opus of a track. Sure, it’s not easy for any band to write “Master of Puppets”, but From Days Unto Darkness rarely takes a breather. It’s mostly positive, but while Master had at times, slow interludes to let you catch your breath, Hatriot takes absolutely no prisoners- staying true to their thrash metal heritage. If you’re not quite up for it, this album will hammer you into a stupor.
The halcyon days of Bay Area thrash metal may be long resigned to nostalgic documentaries, but Hatriot are not interested in just being a throwback to their roots. From Days Unto Darkness is not for the weak and if this is the sign that thrash metal is alive and kicking, then the future and present are in damn good hands.