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.