Bandy: The Challengers

https://underthecountertapes.bandcamp.com/album/the-challengers

Let’s begin this album review with a trip into the past. Back when all you had to do to find alternative music was go “Left of the Dial.” That period in time, that millenials only heard about, but Gen X’ers absolutely revere (from what I’ve gathered). Back when Nirvana hadn’t exploded onto the scene, and college radios played eclectic music. Well, actually they could still be playing eclectic music–but who listens to radio anyway?

Music history up to that point had kind of been like a dialogue between genres. Where Rock music said, “Fuck disco, it’s got no substance.” And Disco was like, “What?” And then Punk said, “Fuck Rock music. You guys are literally singing about the Hobbit, and playing Bach.” That’s the TL;DR version of how punk was started.

Now Punk was four chords of teenage angst. Then what happens to the punk rocker–who shredded on those four chords–when he goes to college? Gets laid? Learns to play his instrument? Well that’s when Alternative Rock comes into the picture, and that’s where we get to the “Left of the Dial.”

Which is the best way to introduce Bandy’s The Challengers. An album that has the fun and exuberance of a frat house, but with the intelligence of a graduate.

So what’s a better song to introduce this album, than Bring the Boys to the Basement? When that opening opening guitar hits your eardrums, it’s pure heaven. Then when aggressive strumming stops, it pauses for a moment, and then you hear it. That melodic plucking. Which in that brief moment in time, is all you need to really get this album. It’s aggressive while melodic, raw but sincere, lo-fi yet expertly produced. This dichotomous relationship is the force between every song. Every track sounds like the sonic equivalent of “Saturdays is for the Boys.” Yet as anybody who has been to a party knows, one moment you’re shotgunning a beer, the next you’re telling a heartrending story about a girl you used to date. It’s that added layer of humanity that makes music like this really work.

The track ebbs and flows, yet retains this sense of youthfulness. Then you hear the vocals. The vocals have that masculine grit. Which makes it, oh so charismatic. Like the guy who walks into the party and everybody knows his name. They all know he’s a party animal, you expect a crazy wild night, and you get it. But then when it’s all quiet, people are asleep, and you two go out for a smoke. It’s just you two, and you just know him as the crazy wild party animal, but then he does something that surprises you. A random act of kindness, an emotional story, some endearing character flaw, something that brings him down to earth–to your level. It’s then you realize that it’s not because of his shenanigans that’s what makes him popular, it’s his humanity.

So while Need for Reefer doesn’t really sell my case for the vocals. After all it’s just a guy singing about needing some weed. Yet we’re still having a good time, and we haven’t gotten to the after hours. So Need for Reefer is one of those songs that you can’t help but smile at. Whether it’s the Little Richard guitar playing, the ole fashioned rock n’ roll vocals, or just the subject matter. Anybody who doesn’t crack a smile on this track has had some serious tragedy happen in their lives. Because unless Reefer has burnt your crops, raided your village, and kidnapped your daughter; there is no possible way you cannot smile at this song.

It’s not irony, since being ironic is a social clutch to avoid being made fun of for being sincere. No it’s pure fun. It’s the type of song you write with your friends, laughing to yourselves on how you’re getting away with it. An attitude the underground scene desperately needs. Where people are either these tortured tormented souls, or are so ironic that nothing really matters. Everybody needs to take a breather and not take things so seriously. And if you want that in music form, then this is the track for you.

Now I touched on it briefly, there’s no denying the 50’s rock feel of this track. While I said that punk was a response to Rock–I was half right. Rock music had grown indulgent, and punk wanted to strip that indulgence down to it’s bare essentials. Now how they did this, was to combine the grittiness of say The Stooges, and the 4 chord song structure of popular 50’s music. The Ramones, in particular, were influenced just as much by Phil Spector and 50’s pop music, as they were in The Stooges. So punk has always had this unconscious or accidental throwback to a 50’s rock n’ roll. And no track better exemplifies this than Need for Reefer.

Next in Tale o’ Whoa we get that homage of punk music, with it’s bizarro lyrics, energy, and short brief guitar solos. Yet one thing that has got to be mentioned is the drumming. Now while Trying to Reach You is a better illustration of the drumming prowess that’s displayed throughout the album. This is the first glimpses you get into Bandy’s drumming prowess. The drums are not just expansive, THEY’RE HUGE. They say that Keith Moon was an excellent drummer not solely because of his talent, but for his ability to use every single drum on his drum set. This whole entire album is a perfect representation of how a drummer should play drums. Yeah, brevity is the soul of wit and whatever. But if you’re going to buy a drumset you better use the whole damn drumset.

Now remember when I mentioned earlier how the vocals are incredibly charismatic? Not just because they have that rowdy kind of edge, but because they have a degree of humanity? Well Passing the Rhyme is the track to show how tender the vocals can be. As tender a charismatic singer of a “Good time rock n’ roll band” can be. The beginning guitar has this sort of nostalgic wistful kind of feel, while the vocals croon, growl, and howl. Even the piano flourishes and guitar solos, have this tinge of sadness.

Though it’s not a sadness that drenches you in melancholy. Rather it’s that kind of sadness that comes from a bad breakup. Yeah, it sucks that you’re going through a breakup, but God damn if you aren’t relieved it’s over. When the singer sings “La la la” and you hear that chorus–it doesn’t matter if you haven’t gone through a break up–because you’re already feelin’ it.

Now let’s jump into I Dream of Trash and Skin Diving in the Sea of Trash. This is the point in time that if you don’t “get” the album, these are the songs to listen to. It’s also why you should listen to albums in their entirety rather than cherry picking songs, but that’s a whole other issue. These tracks are the anthem of punk rock. If you wanted to distill punk to it’s purest element, away from all the microgenres, and bullshit–this is it. It’s that child like song lyrics that calls back from songs like “I just wanna sniff some glue.” It’s that unbridled creativity that makes you stop and think, “I can write songs about diving into trash?” It’s the track that shows you that everything is possible, and just when you get hooked on the lyrics–Bandy pulls the rug from under your feet.

How do they do that? Well they slow down the track, or just play slower and sing lower. The distorted guitar sputters out of control in the background. And it sounds like everything is falling apart. Then when it sounds like the track is about to fall into chaos. BAM. Skin Diving in the Sea of Trash starts banging away, and everything falls into place. It’s that controlled anarchy, that is what made punk great. And when I say controlled, I mean there was anarchy while music was blasting through the speakers. That kind of spirit in punk, has been dying for awhile, yet listening to this track gives me hope.

Finally we get to The Truth is a Lonely Place, the victory lap in an already great album. A song that swells up in punk energy, to then slow down and deliver some soul. Yet when Bandy says the “Truth is a Lonely Place” I think they mean that being a good old rock band is a lonely place. After all there wouldn’t be an army of 12 year olds born in the wrong generation if this wasn’t the case.

When starting this blog I was wanted to capture that “Left of the Dial” kind of experience that people had back when “alternative” music was still in it’s underground phase. This is why I started this blog. This album has energy, creativity, and just the right amount of charm–it’s something you can’t find anyway else. It’s why when I write reviews on albums, I’m almost always blown away as to why they aren’t getting enough attention. And why it’s always so exciting to hear.

So obviously, without a doubt, if you want an album that reminds you of why you like music. Or why you make music. Then this is the album for you. With that I’ve give this album my full recc.

Day Gold: Give me the Sun Forever

https://daygold.bandcamp.com/album/give-me-the-sun-forever

First let me preface this review by talking a little bit about Pensacola. I was stationed there for awhile, and it’s not one of those cities that you think about when you think of Florida. Usually people go to Orlando, Tampa, Miami, or Jacksonville. Yet this city is a jewel, and I met some of the most creative people in my life at that city.

It was all by accident. There was this chief I worked for, who was a ladies man, and was hooking up with girls left and right. Everybody who worked for him admired him, so we all tried to emulate him. He told us to dress nice, tell good jokes, get her number, and he left out other key important pieces of information–mainly don’t go to the strip club to try to get laid. Which is exactly what I did. I blew nearly $600 at Sammy’s, and when I found out that it wasn’t a magical place to get laid (“We’re strippers, not prostitutes,” a phrase I heard a lot), I decided to explore the city. That’s where I found the art scene and all the creative people of Pensacola. Every night began as a quest to get laid, only to be sidetracked by more interesting creative people.

Listening to this album for me, is just further clarification that the music scene in Pensacola, is as good as I remembered (as well as someone who was constantly drunk could remember). Let’s start with the opening track, Play in the Rain if there was any better opener to a great album, then I’ve probably never heard it. Let’s take the sample, a car passing by you on a rainy day. Immediately just by that little slice ambient noise, you already know you’re outside in the rain. It’s such a subtle little touch; kind of like when you’re reading a book, and the author provides a metaphor that you immediately understand. Then for Day Gold to incorporate that into a major part of his sound, is so creative, so intelligent, that it leaves you flabbergasted as to how someone can be so creative.

Every piece of this song (as well as this album) is so well constructed, every single element of this track from the vocals, the guitar, and even the samples are so well produced. There’s nothing that’s left up to chance, and that’s not taken into consideration. From the effects on the vocals, to the tone of the guitar–both when it strums chords, and plucks away sweet melodies. In any other song, say the production of the vocals would be the main driving point, since it’s so uniquely produced. But on this track, everything is well produced, and it’s not overwhelming or showing off. Rather everything is produced in a certain way to either convey: A. the rain, or B. that you hang on to your youthfulness and sense of wonder. Even the end guitar part, with the rain ambience in the background, on any other track it would be a real sad song. Yet with the energy and ambience of the rest of the track, it sounds less of a brooding melancholy that most songs with rain samples have. Rather it sounds like a night in with friends on a rainy day, and after a night drinking when everybody is all cuddled up someone picks up the guitar and plays a soulful tune.

This celebratory tone of this track carries through the rest of the album. By singing about the beach, being out in the sun, and living life to the fullest. But what separates Day Gold from, from say Jimmy Buffet, is how talented he is at creating a soundscape that reflects what he’s singing about. So when we take Life is an Ocean which immediately starts off with that softened reverbed out guitar, that strums ever so gently, playing this soothing melody–it’s pure relaxation. If you were to isolate that guitar, and ask someone where they’d picture themselves at, it would be impossible not to say the beach. Maybe it’s because of the wet reverb of surfer music, underwater video game music, or wherever–it’s in our collective unconscious. It’s kind of what we expect ocean music to sound like. Then when we go to the warm fuzzy guitar lead, rather than being abrasive, it’s more of a cool chilled out kind of feel. Kind of like when you’re 3 margaritas in, laying in a hotub, and you slowly start to feel the alcohol spread through your body. Then when we finally get to the vocals, which by themselves is incredibly good, yet with the production that Day Gold applies, it causes the vocals to sound more expansive. That expansiveness gives it this psychedelic edge to it, and as mentioned before, psychedelia works best as a sense of expanded sense of consciousness. So if we combine all the elements that the production provides: that you’re at the beach, you’re chilled out, and now you’re so relaxed that you’ve reached a point of enlightenment. I mean how much more can a track do for you?

Then when we get to Your Heart is a Clock the beginning guitar that swells up in volume, like when an alarm clock goes off, and when you wake up you finally realize it’s time for work. Although the guitar isn’t that abrasive, it has that forward sense of momentum that thrusts the rest of the song into action. Plus the lyrical content–that we’re all going to die, so we might as well enjoy life while we still can–needs that forward momentum for the track to work. To that effect it does. The drums and fuzzy guitar provides this nice groove, that gives credibility to the lyrics. Because if you’re going to sing a song about living life to it’s fullest, it better sound like you’re living life to your fullest. This is the kind of track, that if you were walking down the street and put on your earbuds, you’d immediately be walking with a swagger–even if you didn’t know what the song was about. It just has that kind of energy.

So next up is Rock Me to Sleep with it’s pitch perfect chord progression, and vocals that sound like a lullaby. It already lives up to it’s name. But it’s what happens next, that changes this from a well written song, to really good rock music. That is the lead guitar. Hearing the chord progression change to this unresolved melody, that’s desperate for a resolution, only for the drums to kick in, brings about this huge amount of anticipation. And like any good showman, Day Gold knows that the build up is just as good as the delivery. Then the lead guitar comes through like a whirlwind, and it’s not the heavy metal speed kind of shredding, that loses all emotion through it being so technical–no, this guitar has got soul. You feel this surge of emotion as this phased out guitar plays out this cool solo. And when I say cool, I mean the cool 90’s kind of guitar solos, back when people wore weird shit, and hung out in coffee houses. That kind of gen X coolness, that millennials associate as being grungy, when in fact it was people doing their own thing, and being sincere. Now I know it’s subjective to say a guitar solo is cool; but if there was anybody out there trying to quantify the coolness of guitar solos, this would be a good place to start.

Finally we end with Give Me the Sun Forever with this reverbed out drum beat that’s just as in your face as the fuzzy guitar tone we all love (because if you don’t like that guitar tone you are insane). With the guitar strumming in the background, and the overall carefree atmosphere this song produces, it’s the kind of track that would be played out when watching the sunset on a beach. You know when you’re at the beach with all your friends, got a bonfire started, and a cooler full of beer–and you sit there looking at the sunset, knowing that it doesn’t get much better than this.

Which is a great way to end the album review. Indie rock albums don’t get much better than this album, and for anybody who loves going to the beach (which is everybody, unless you’re all lying on your tinder profiles) then this is the album for you. For me, it’s a solidification that the artists, and musicians that I met in Pensacola were the real deal. If I were to tell anybody a story of my brief time stationed there, I’d tell them to listen to this album first, and then they’d understand why Pensacola is such a great place to live at.

With the positive vibes, and the great soundtrack for a day out in the sun, this album gets my full recc. Please if you are a human, and like listening to music, check this guy out–you are sure to be amazed.