Review Summary: An emotional and rugged post-hardcore debut from a band that should have gotten much more exposure before their untimely disbanding.
The Fest last year in Gainesville was a magical weekend for me. I saw slews of bands put on probably some of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed in front of some of the most appreciative (and drunk) crowds that I’ve ever been a part of. From the Lawrence Arms, to Circle Takes the Square, to Municipal Waste, and even The Draft, all put forward excellent performances, and while being mildly disappointed at certain points during the three days there, I was always pretty satisfied with the overall experience. However, the biggest surprise of the Fest for me came late on Sunday, when the temporarily reformed Michigan post-hardcore group Small Brown Bike came together for their last reunion performance. The energy and raw emotion being put forth from the band was absolutely remarkable, and following their set, I’ve been completely smitten since.
From the first major octave scales of “The Cannons and the Tanks”
, you can tell you are in for something special. The infectious urgency exhibited by the band is something special that can’t be denied. As opposed to typical four-chord punk, all four members of Small Brown Bike contribute a very unique style to the bands instrumental section. As opposed to backing each other with power chords, guitarists Mike Reed and Travis Dopp toss in trad-rock inspired riffs (see “The Cold
”), inverse chords, and walloping and beautiful octave chord progressions (“Make This a Holiday
”, where they even experiment with a beautiful intermingling acoustic guitar in the opening verse and outro).
The rhythm section of Small Brown Bike though, is where the real power of the band lies. Drummer Dan Jaquint does an outstanding job behind the skins, providing a great lead into the many different dynamic sections that most of the songs possess. Not for nothing, but Jaquint has some moments of pure excellence on the record as well in terms of skill alone. The opening fill to both “The Cannons and the Tanks
” and the oft-overlooked “Expression Eraser
” exude power and emotion from every orifice (in fact, I’d name “Cannons
” as one of my favorite opening songs of all time). Bassist Ben Reed is decidedly less essential than Jaquint, but his time in the spotlight includes all five-plus minutes of “In Tune
” and the spartan bridges of “Curiosity Killed the Cat…And I’m the Killed
”, where his unique and powerful bass tone pushes the song along to it’s dramatic conclusion.
As a debut record, Our Own Wars
is remarkably mature. Instead of coming off as angsty and immature, Small Brown Bike’s atheistic is charmingly advanced, a rarity in this form of music. Most of their lyrics deal with personal relationships, but somehow steer away from all of the clichés that plague bands from their ilk, as well as a good chunk of the crotch-licking scene bands today. Instead of being addressed in a whiney or even pleading tone, Mike Reed’s lyrics tend to take a more detached and realistic point of view. Opting for honesty over yearning, Reed and co-vocalist Dopp both come out with some frankly beautiful lyrics (“A walk is all that I need/this ambiguity feels like a knife in me/sixteen blocks without any thanks/I feel that I think the cannons and tanks), delivered through powerful shouting and trade offs, very similar to their contemporaries in Hot Water Music (For all intents and purposes Reed is Chris Wollard, with a more midrange raspy delivery, where Dopp has the harsher bark similar to Chuck Ragan).
In the end though, Our Own Wars
(and to a greater extent, Small Brown Bike) is not for everyone. It’s a rough hewn record for sure, as evidenced by the vocals and the occasionally sloppy musicianship. I would personally argue that the ‘rough around the edges’ appeal works for Small Brown Bike, but it can be certainly off putting at times. Even the production is raw and unpolished, which can make the vocals indistinguishable at times. Although, one could also argue that the polished production could ruin a record that is filled with character and individuality. Regardless, Our Own Wars
is a defining moment in rough-hewn post-hardcore and one that would go onto shape the formation of countless bands that would go on as the torchbearers of both The Fest and post-hardcore in general.
Running, Swimming, and Sinking
Make This a Holiday
The Cannons and the Tanks
Curiosity Killed the Cat…And I’m the Killed