Review Summary: "It's Halloween in Hell, but it sure looks like Dad's garage."
In the now-ancient year that was 2015, Jake Ewald had a problem. He had been with the band that launched him to fame, Modern Baseball, since 2012. All of the songs he had written were all in a similar style and were designed to fit into the blueprint the fans wanted and expected. So, if he can’t stretch his songwriting chops in the barriers of Modern Baseball, how could he do it? Enter Slaughter Beach, Dog, and their unique, zany, heartfelt debut record Welcome (2016), where we get to see Jake Ewald take his first step away from his comfort zone.
Welcome is an album of adventure. Just as Ewald is trying to expand his musical abilities, the listener is being pulled down a road of indie-rock and folk; a road quite different than that in which Modern Baseball traveled down. Upbeat cathartic emo songs are replaced with winding stories of people that exist only in Ewald’s mind. Sad acoustic ballads are suddenly brushed with light percussion and sliding lead guitars. It’s an interesting approach to take and it very much helps create a more memorable listen.
The biggest standout here is the lyrics, which scream, “The Weakerthans.” Ewald himself is quoted with stating that his, “favorite experience to have with bands is to be rewarded by repeated listens and figure out these things as you go along.” This was a driving force for him when crafting Welcome, and it shows. Recurring characters pop in and out of songs as verses wind in through people’s daily lives. A shining example of this comes in the form of the lead single “Monsters,” where Ewald tells a story of a girl with a missing father, an alcoholic mother, and a deceased brother and how she goes through her troubles at home at age 22. The best moment comes at the conclusion of the second verse, where Ewald belts out the wonderful line, “In a dream I am 14 all again watching my big brother talk to them, saying ’She ain't half your height, pick on someone else tonight.’” It portrays a strong climax to a story that is only built up in a few brief moments but one that resonates with the listener.
While “Monsters” is the most energetic track present, the calmest and serene one is the true standout. “Politics of Grooming” glides along peacefully as we return to the girl in the previously discussed track where she chooses to perfect her appearance instead of thinking about her life. It’s a serious accomplishment that a song can bear such a heavy emotional weight when it’s about someone talking to a girl when they’re getting ready. “Hell, I'd paint my face and fingers and my toes and lips and eyelids if it meant tonight I didn't have to think about the future” Ewald softly sings, easing the listener into the oddly beautiful world on display.
While the lyrics take the most attention, the instruments provide a pleasant backdrop. The ripping lead guitar and groovy drum beat on “Drinks” and the solid bassline dancing across “Forever” are some great examples of what these songs have to offer. Closer “Essex Street” has a nice twinkly sound that, while not unique to Slaughter Beach, Dog, is very pleasant to listen to. The subtle lead guitar and bells dancing in the background of “Toronto Mug” are also extremely well done and come together to form a brief but enjoyable track. As a whole, the instrumentation on Welcome is very well done and leaves little room for improvement.
Despite all of these praises, Welcome is still not an outstanding album. The production leaves some tracks sounding rushed and the mixing emphasizes some parts way more than others, specifically the roaring intro to “Drinks” after the peaceful end to “Politics of Grooming.” Other than those, Welcome has no glaring issues. The biggest fault that it can be given is that all of the good ideas present turn into excellent ideas on later releases. Some tracks are also far less memorable than others. “Toronto Mug II” is one example of this as this track falls out of the listener’s memory when the album wraps up just one song later. As a whole, this debut is a strong start to the project but leaves room for improvement on future albums. Ewald proves to be a versatile songwriter and Slaughter Beach, Dog proves to have enormous potential.