Review Summary: Michigan melodic punks' second album finally sees the light of day, and about damn time too!
Sometimes, there's nothing better than a three-piece band to strip things back and blow the cobwebs away. But when you consider that North Lincoln started recording Midwestern Blood
in early 2007, and it's only recently been released, you start to wonder if maybe they'd abandoned the raw punk rock of their previous recordings and spent two years putting together some kind of rock opera... Thankfully, that's not the case - the delayed release was apparently due to the failed recording (and subsequent re-recording) of vocals, and a delay with the mastering. Hell, the band have even written the follow-up record in the interim!
Despite its long gestation period, Midwestern Blood
sounds like it was recorded in a couple of days in a garage, and I mean that as a compliment; add a little fake crowd noise and you'd genuinely have no problem believing this to be a live album, such is the raw energy and ambience of the record. There's little in the way of overdubs here - it's just one guitar, a bass, a drumkit, and a whole lotta shredded vocals. The band's songwriting ensures that at any given moment, at least one instrument is doing something a little more imaginative than the usual thumping away at a simple chord progression; of particular note is bassist/co-vocalist Brian Beckwith, who's basslines are often the driving force behind the songs, his impressive fills steering each song through various twists and turns.
In terms of overall sound, North Lincoln channel the sounds of a whole range of midwestern punk rock bands and that genre's usual set of common influences. Take for example "All this Time," one of the album's highlights, whose combination of soaring-yet-gruff vocals, robust guitar melodies, and pounding mid-tempo beat comes off like Samiam
jamming with Hot Water Music
. In fact, so effective is North Lincoln's distillation of their influences, that my first listen to Midwestern Blood
genuinely brought the kind of spine-tingling excitement that I felt back when I first heard the latter's Fuel for the Hate Game
. Many of the songs also feed off the kind of introspectiveness that made Jawbreaker
such an intriguing prospect. Songs like "Weight of the World" and "Bridge Jumpers," the latter with it's sad tale of a suicide pact by drowning, both manage to combine a downbeat lyrical route with soaring choruses and raw-throated emotion to great effect.
However, further cementing the live feel of the album, the band have taken a similar approach as one might to making a setlist, and saved the best for last, ensuring Midwestern Blood
truly ends on a high thanks to the sheer brilliance of "Siblings." A song of brotherhood and lifelong friendship, it builds from an unnassuming start, increasing in energy, catchiness and intensity with every passing line, before the final chorus, featuring soaring vocals from both Brian and guitarist Kevin Nunn, as well as a female backing vocalist. Hell, my only complaint with "Siblings" is that they didn't carry on that last chorus for another minute or two! Every time I hear it, I immediately put the track on repeat a few times!
If I had to pick apart Midwestern Blood
to look for some kind of downside, I'd probably point out that one or two songs ("Morals" and "No Turning Back") tend to pass by a little unnoticed, although they're by no means bad at all. Some might point out that the vocals occasionally stray a LITTLE out of tune or become strained on a few notes, although for me, this just adds to the raw and live feel of the album.
So, for those who are new to North Lincoln, Midwestern Blood
is a fine album, and one which will surely hook you on the band. For those who've been into the band since day one, well let's just say that the last two years have been worth the wait.