Review Summary: Scuffed, heartfelt and mysterious emo gem
Boilermaker is the second scruffy emo act from San Diego I’ve felt compelled to write about. If there’s extraordinarily little info on fellow scenesters No Knife, then Boilermaker are positively mysterious. It’s not very easy to find any of the three albums they released as a band. Leucadia’s existence is a blessing; a chronological collection of tasters from each album, bookended by two “new” tracks. If you can’t find the source, at least it’s a great overview of them as a band.
The liner notes mention how Leucadia (the place) shaped the band – they describe a certain magic in the summers which informed their sound. I must confess, Leucadia doesn’t work well as an evocation of location – as with many emo records, it’s more concerned with memories and describing very immediate reactions to various formative moments.
Vocalist Terrin Durfey tends to live mostly in a strained, high vocal space. This dynamic can grate a little but muddying up the production and choosing to bury him in the instrumentation works out well. He is always railing, trying to break through that layer of dust that settles on things, like when your boots get rust coloured after walking in gravel. The band does not often run fast, rather relying on a ramshackle pace and dropping away to build up tension. For a three piece, they achieve a surprisingly full sound, sometimes verging on post rock, especially in opener “Whitewash”.
Predictably, the weakest third of the record runs from “Roller Rink Skate Date” to “Trunk” as this is a band still working on developing as songwriters. It is probably the more aggressive stretch and still contains highlights like “Trunk” which sounds like a weather emergency. The main guitar line is like wind picking up steam in corners, tunnels and underneath bridges – I visualize dust and dried leaves in a vortex, then falling in the calmer passages. It is a great track and probably the pick of the first third. “Roller Rink Skate Date” is perhaps one of the better songs at capturing the feeling of the title – the rolling bass and rhythm becomes teenagers skating in your mind. While this portion of the comp is less developed, it does benefit from the fire of a young band, and is still more assured than many other debuts I have heard.
The middle stretch has a more anthemic feel, culminating in the massive “Pathos Delay”. It’s languid and swooning through the verses, then glows red like blown glass as Durfey’s voice meshes with the desperate guitar push. This continues into their last phase, when the compilation highlight “Norman” rolls out, raw guitar opening transmuting into a melodic stream. The bass corkscrews over it, and the vocal is like a man trapped in the storm. The songs from here on manage to preserve form but create space and texture as well. “Sunset Ridge” and “Thinner Runs Through Her” are sinewy, utilising serpentine base figures to introduce a more mature spareness into their sound.
Seeing their development over the course of this collection, it might have been interesting to see them reform – they even close with the simple “Cruel Heart”, which somehow seems to conjure the spirit of heartfelt 60’s teenage soul ballads without sounding like them. Sadly, Terrin Durfey (who also worked with Pinback) passed away in 2008, losing a decade long battle with cancer. I’d have loved to see what they did after venturing beyond a secluded little beach town that I had to look up.