Review Summary: the shelf in the rooooooooom
I tend to look back on the whole post-Nirvana grunge scene with different ears nowadays then I did before. Popular opinion tends to be that most of these bands were rip-offs and attempts to cash in on the formula that groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam created. At times this was pretty true. Some of these artists and albums are still pretty bad and unoriginal to this very day (i.e. Candlebox, Bush). At other times you realize that some efforts were surprisingly a lot better than what those late 90's critics said (i.e. Throwing Copper by Live). Days of the New's self titled debut falls into the latter category. Days of the New were unfairly chastised as a cheap attempt to make grunge with an acoustic gimmick while critics failed to notice the depth of 17 year old Travis Meeks's songwriting and the interesting amalgam of genres these guys managed to encompass (country, folk and grunge). On second listen, this album reveals itself to be a pretty good set of songs and quite an entertaining listen.
As mentioned before, Days of the New played what I like to call "folk-grunge", a surprising blend of genres that combined acoustic instrumentation with angst-filled grunge lyricism. The closest relative to this sound are Alice in Chains's acoustic efforts like Jar of Flies and MTV Unplugged, and it is easy to notice some of the cues Days of the New takes from Alice in Chains while listening to this album. Frontman Travis Meeks's voice eerily recalls Layne Staley's tortured snarl on tracks like the hit single "Touch, Peel and Stand". However, Days of the New focused entirely on tight acoustic jams, unlike Alice in Chains who preferred to combine their acoustic work with distorted sounds, creating a sort of schizophrenia that could be heard in tracks like "Heaven Beside You" and "I Stay Away". I gotta give Meeks credit though, he wrote this music at the age of 17, and shows a surprising depth of songwriting and musical maturity for someone so young.
The three big singles on the album, "Touch, Peel and Stand", "Shelf in the Room", and "The Down Town" are the standout tracks here. "Touch, Peel and Stand", a classic track which you've probably heard on the radio at least once, represents the whole essence of Days of the New: tight acoustic guitar interplay, Meeks's Jim Morrison meets Layne Staley vocal stylings, and subtle percussion and rhythm instrumentation. However, on this track, the rhythm section is a driving force, with the hypnotic cymbal-heavy drum work and pulsating bass lines building a firm base for Meeks's vocals. "Shelf in the Room" features gentle acoustic arpeggios and lyrics about loneliness. The grunge influence of the band can be seen in the bridge of the song, where Meeks puts his voice through distortion and sings "Holdin out, holdin in, holdin out (holdin out never hold)". "The Down Town" is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and is a lot more upbeat than the rest of the album. Oh yeah didn't I forget to mention that a lot of the material on this record is down tempo, minor key stuff? Just one listen to the suicidal death march of closing track "Cling" will immediately tell you this isn't the latest Alanis Morissette record.
The album's one major flaw is its inconsistency. However when the folk-grunge hybrid formula works, you have some great results. Tracks like "Face of the Earth", "Where I Stand", and "Now" are every bit as good as "Touch, Peel and Stand" and "The Down Town". Unfortunately the band rehashes the same sounds too often, and the worser tracks sound just like cheap imitations of "Shelf in the Room" and other standouts. Meeks would unfortunately change the entire Days of the New lineup for the next couple albums (which are also self-titled for some reason) and he never was quite able to recreate the unique atmosphere of the debut. If you are looking for an interesting take on grunge and some great acoustic work, it wouldn't hurt to check out this record.