Review Summary: Ex-Gunmoll fella Mike Hale forges a new direction with a dark, varied album fuelled by heartache, loss and.... grunge influences?!
There really is nothing like a genre-label to get preconceptions dancing around your head is there" I was first introduced to In the Red a couple of months ago in a news article that described their then-forthcoming second album as having a "grunge influence," and immediately I was struck cold with thoughts of Puddle of Mudd, Creed, and other woeful "post-grunge" bands. Thankfully, a quick visit to the band's MySpace page revealed that not only were they a far more interesting concern than the aforementioned whine-rock dullards, but also that In the Red are led by Mike Hale, ex-guitarist/vocalist of Gainesville punk rock stalwarts Gunmoll
. In the Red sees him moving away from the gruff Hot Water Music
-isms of his old band into a more melodic direction.
So what of the supposed grunge influence then" Well, it's true that Mike (joined here by world's tallest drummer Matt Glasgow) has softened his distinctively full-throated, whiskey-soaked rasp of old and wrapped it around some incredibly catchy melodies, and as a result, there are a few lines throughout the album where he bears a striking aural resemblance to a certain Mr. Cobain. And yes, the bass-heavy production, thick guitar sound and mid-tempo punk rock drumming also cast a nod towards Seattle's most famous sons. However, In the Red owe a lot to the likes of post-hardcore luminaries Quicksand
(just listen to the lurching riff that drives "Something Shocking") and Bitch Magnet
before them (in the furiously propulsive "Jet Breaker"). They even manage to get a bit technical with the likes of "First Evil Twin," a varied number that twists its way through scattershot drumbeats and stabbing guitar riffs before settling on the brilliant one-two of a dark, brooding, and melodic verse and soaring upbeat chorus.
What makes Volume 2
so distinctive, in spite of the list of comparisons I've made to other bands, is the striking contrast between the songs and their subject matter. For the most part, the melodies are quite upbeat, and made even more so by the sublime layered vocal harmonies used in almost every song, but the lyrics they carry are as pain-filled and angst-ridden as they come; Mike wrote these songs in the wake of his wife leaving him, and shortly before he made the decision to pack all of his belongings into storage and live the life of a touring musician on the road permanently. Hearing him sing lines like "That's the sound of you leaving/Over and over again"
on kinetic opener "Unlaced," and "One day, this will be done and be over/I'll be on my way"
on the incredibly catchy "The Drakes," adds a huge amount of emotional weight to the music. Even the few power-ballad-esque tracks on the album come off sounding all the more powerful; "I Want a New Life" is a truly affecting song of heartbreak and lost love, and the mournful-yet-strangely-uplifting "These Old Songs Again" is similarly impressive.
All this talk of introspection might, however, imply that the band aren't capable of rocking like proverbial bastards. Such thoughts are blown wide apart by the likes of "Jet Breaker," "Green Eyes" and frantic closer "If You Want," although the band temper their heavier parts with more subdued transitions to keep the listener on their feet.
isn't the most immediate collection of songs you'll hear this year; the rather strange production, generally dark and brooding mood, and Mike's vocal approach (which I personally enjoy, but concede that it might be an acquired taste for some) certainly take a few listens to get used to. However, when things really click, on the third or maybe fourth listen, you'll find yourself coming back again and again, humming the melodies long after the record is over. In the Red have produced a very varied second album, and although they might wear their influences rather openly on their sleeves at times, their strong songwriting and passionate delivery make Volume 2
a unique, honest, and most importantly, a very enjoyable record.