You have to feel sorry for some bands, don’t you? They plug away for fifteen years or more trying to perfect their sound and then along come a young band who better you on their first effort. In case you haven’t guessed yet, The Gaslight Anthem are the young band in this analogy. Their debut Sink or Swim
has the sound of a band that has been playing together for decades, yet in reality, the band formed as recently as 2005 in New Brunswick, New Jersey – a “town [that] is a prison with its four walls closing in.” Sharing a state with punk legends The Bouncing Souls and folk-rock royalty Bruce Springsteen has obviously influenced them as bluesy, folksy punk-rock is the order of the day here. With folk-punk troubadours Against Me! currently engaged in taking on the mainstream, there is a vacant slot in the punk world and The Gaslight Anthem are more than capable of filling it.
While The Gaslight Anthem’s sound on Sink or Swim
may not be the most original, as it can be easily compared to a mix of Against Me! and Hot Water Music, they are so good at what they do that the results are simply stunning. There is a very real urgency about their music, particularly in frontman Brian Fallon’s vocals. His husky vocals add a warm, bluesy tone to tracks such as ‘I Coul’d A Been A Contender’
,and makes the chorus even bigger that it would be. Big choruses and hooks can be found on several tracks on Sink or Swim
that add to the replay factor of the album. For example, ‘We’re Getting A Divorce, You Keep The Diner’
with its AM! Style “woah’s” and anthemic concluding chant of “It’s alright, man. I’m only bleeding, man. Stay hungry, stay free and do the best you can” will occupy your head for weeks – in a good way. Not only do they add to the catchiness of this particular song, but the transition that leads to such sections of the song keeps things interesting and adds something special to the song.
The album however, is not solely made up of up-tempo bluesy punk-rock. The addition of ‘The Navesink Banks’
and album closer ‘Red At Night’
adds variation as well as quality to the album. Both are reminiscent of Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan’s recent solo project only more subdued, moody and toned down. There is little accompaniment to the acoustic guitar and Fallon’s vocals in ‘The Navesink Banks’ save for some distant sounding, delay-soaked guitars, and the raw and stripped down nature of the song adds to the simple beauty of it. Billy Bragg’s ‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’ acts as the basis for ‘Red At Night’ which Fallon wrote his own lyrics for. It works brilliantly and its quality is aided by the tasteful inclusion of harmonicas. As great as these more reflective moments are, The Gaslight Anthem stick largely to what they know throughout and it is on tracks like ‘I’da Called Ya Woody, Joe’
that they shine most. Building from palm-muted guitars and almost-whispered vocals to another huge sounding, up-tempo chorus it is incredibly powerful and energetic, being driven forwards by a solid rhythm section. Better yet is the opener ‘Boomboxes and Dictionaries’
with its choppy, sun soaked guitars in the verses, reassuring lyrical messages and powerful chorus. The best song on the album though, is the endearing tale of “beautiful nights under this quiet Edison sky” that is ‘We Came To Dance’
. It’s structuring and textural build up is simple yet masterful, and its chorus is, yet again, gigantic and anthemic.
The Gaslight Anthem certainly have a lot going for them right now. They have a second album scheduled for release in the not too distant future and a busy touring schedule including headline shows, a brief stint on the Warped Tour and Reading & Leeds festivals playing alongside Alkaline Trio and Thrice. More importantly though, they have talent – bags of it. Sink or Swim’
is quite simply one of the best punk releases in recent memory, and the fact that it is only a debut is even more astounding. The future is undoubtedly looking bright for The Gaslight Anthem and only time will tell if they can better their debut, and take it from me, it will take something very special to beat this. With such talent at their disposable there isn’t a chance that The Gaslight Anthem will sink
, just how long they can swim
remains to be seen.