In 1976, Steely Dan released The Royal Scam, which became critically acclaimed for its musical depth, complex arrangements and serious production perfection brought on by the group’s founders, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Their first track off of the album is a classic jazz rock song called “Kid Charlemagne.” The lyrics of the song detail what seems like the front running of LSD in San Francisco and with the protagonist of the song being caught by the police after his car runs out of gas. What do Across Five Aprils and Steely Dan have in common? Probably not much, but for starters, Across Five April’s third and newest album, Life Underwater, runs out of gas pretty quickly.
The band was recently picked up by Chicago’s strong independent record label Victory Records and this is their first release on the label. The album begins with “The Darkest Road,” which isn’t a bad opener but Brandon Mullins’ vocals quickly sour it. There’s a difference between screaming for a heightened effect (think Roger Daltry’s scream in The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Classic) and screaming until it becomes redundant, which is where the album is torn. Musically, Life Underwater is chock full of meaty riffs, extensive drumming and decent changes, but the vocals pretty much scratch on the surface at best and sour the already shaky mixture.
To be fair, the music Across Five Aprils performs isn’t bad. It’s just a bit formulaic. Mullins’ vocals are bit better on “Faith Shaped Pill.” In fact, if Mullins would stay at the same timbre he sings during the choruses of this song alone, the band would use much better range of their resources.
The album follows with heavy-handed numbers “This Means Not Welcome”, “I Am The Polar Bear”, “Dreamer’s Disease” and the humorous-yet-spoiler-induced “Snape Kills Dumbeldore”. Unfortunately, it still sounds as if Mullins’ is trying to make an impression. It makes sense, this is his second album with the band and the band is still in its infancy.
The production however is good. Victory Records does great work (The Audition, Thursday, Spitalfield) and this record has a crisp, full sound with it. Across Five Aprils is definitely one of those bands that doesn’t apply to everyone but has a strong cult following. The music isn’t too bad, but as I mentioned before, it seems to be like everything else and it’s in a saturated market. It’s almost nu metal, but there’s no rap. Either way, this record isn’t great and it falls low on the quality scale.
To phrase Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne’s” lyrics: “Is there gas in the car/Yes, theres gas in the car/I think the people/ down the hall/Know who you are.” If there’s gas left in Across Five Aprils, they might be able to do much better work on their next release. This simply is just too short of full potential.
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