Released: May 26, 2009
Written by: Crash Kings
Produced by: Dave Sardy
Engineered by: Ryan Castle
Mixed by: Dave Sardy
Mastered by: Stephen Marcussen
Running time: 36:22
Number of Songs: 10
Label: Custard/Universal Motown
I rarely listen to the radio. There are plenty of quality stations in Philly (XPN, MMR, Radio 104.5) but I have little tolerance for music I don’t necessarily love and don’t have to listen to; if I have a CD player anywhere near me, it will be in use. (I regularly have anywhere from 25-30 albums in my car at any one time and 9-10 in my backpack). Not to mention… commercials… ugh. And talk? Such a waste of time. And I say that as much as I respect a good DJ, which is a dying breed (coming from a former college DJ!) The only time I really listen to the radio on purpose is in my car if my CD player’s batteries are dead (that’s a long story) or in the shower. And that’s how I first heard of Crash Kings – wet and naked. (Sorry for the visual).
It’s not that I have any particular disdain for “radio rock”, but I don’t own a single record by Nickelback or Foo Fighters or Daughtry or Shinedown or Nirvana or Aerosmith or Stone Temple Pilots. (Full disclosure: I love Pearl Jam, Incubus, Live and Green Day, and does Weezer count?) It’s rare that I’ll listen to a rock station and hear a song that makes me think “I need to check out that album”. “Mountain Man”, the lead single from Crash Kings’ self-titled debut, was such a song. Their upcoming show at local venue The Note was also promoted, so I thought I’d give them a closer look and see if that gig might be a good idea.
There was something familiar in the sound of that song, but I couldn’t really put my finger on it. It sounded a little raw, but energetic and fun. The drums were up front in the mix. I liked the singer’s voice. So I went online and gave it a listen. God bless the internet – how easy is it to do that? Anyway… what I heard sounded pretty good, so I bought a copy. I rocked it in my car and really got hooked on the immediate, in-your-face style of these songs. It’s definitely pop – the songs are full of great hooks and melodies, and they’re short, concise and don’t waste any time. But it’s also a rock record – piano-based and without a guitar, even.
Crash Kings are: brothers Tony & Mike Beliveau on keys/vocals & bass, respectively, and Jason Morris on drums. The Beliveau brothers, from Boston but now based out of L.A., have been in five other bands together, and this is Morris’ third go-round with them – so despite the fact that they’re relatively new on the national scene, they’ve got a fair amount of experience – in this particular incarnation they’ve been playing together since ’06. A chance meeting with Linda Perry (songwriter/singer/producer/label head) led them to signing to her label, which led to being picked up by Universal, and that then led to high profile touring slots with the likes of Chris Cornell, Stone Temple Pilots, Jet and others. I first heard them on the radio in March of 2010; when I found out their record actually came out way back in May, I felt a little late to the party. Then I saw the single wasn’t released until October and wondered why I am just hearing it now. I was even more confused since the video JUST premiered about a week ago. (Oh, woops. Apparently that’s a “new” version. Here’s the original.) “Mountain Man” did initially chart in November on the Alternative chart and slow-burned its way to #1 at the end of March; it also hit top 20 on the Rock chart. It’s been a gradual climb for recognition and chart success, and I don’t feel so out of the loop since so many people are just now paying attention.
But on to the record. The single is a nice introduction to the band but there are plenty of stellar (better) tracks on this album. The goal of the band was to rock without a guitar; to that end, they do add some effects (tubes/amps) to the bass for some extra heavy distortion, and even Tony will play a clavinet with a heavy-duty whammy bar attached so he can bend notes. Add Morris’ hard hitting drums and you’ve got a powerful, potent mix fully on display in 10 mostly foot-stomping tunes on this record. If “power trio” was defined in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of these guys next to it. They keep things interesting with some intricate piano lines on top of unique bass parts for a two-pronged melodic arrangement, while sometimes keeping both locked in together for a solid groove. It’s often a bit bewildering that it’s only these instruments creating this much sound.
For all their inventiveness (a clavinet with a whammy bar?!), they get a lot of comparisons in the press: White Stripes, Ben Folds, Wolfmother (Dave Sardy also produced their debut record), Weezer, Maroon 5. There is some familiarity there in what they’re doing, and I think that’s what I keyed into when I first heard them. And while I would definitely agree with the Ben Folds comparison (especially with the distorted bass and pounding keys), they get a LOT of White Stripes nods. Tony’s voice is much better than either of those, though he doesn’t have the wit or sarcasm or sap of Folds; but I’m not a White Stripes fan at all, so I can’t tell if that’s valid – frankly, it mystifies me a bit. And I’d be willing to bet Morris can drum circles around Meg White. I can feel the Maroon 5 vibe, though they’re not nearly as slick or leaning towards soul. Tony’s voice really reminds me of Marc Roberge from O.A.R., and it has that rare quality that it’s much better tonally at full volume and high in the range than it is lower and softer. He sounds better the stronger he sings, which really works for these driving tunes. The lyrics are good – interesting, even – and subtly ambiguous enough to keep me guessing a bit, which I find both intriguing and frustrating. They aren’t going to bowl you over with poetics or philosophy, but they will never bore you with rote, tired themes. In short: pretty refreshing for rock radio.
The lead single is a good starter for featuring Tony’s gymnastic voice and Jason’s powerful drumming. It’s a mid-tempo rocker and gets your head nodding right off the bat. Great “whoaohOHohhhh!” sing along. How about the balls on these guys? The title of their national debut lead single does not appear in the song a single time. Kudos for that. Also, props for not having a huge, pop chorus in this one. The refrain is repeated often but it’s a singly sung, 4-bar, cryptic lyric. It’s also one of the few songs on the record to actually have some kind of middle instrumental break; it’s vaguely guitar-solo-like, but with no guitar solo. The rest of the songs are pretty lyric-heavy with little extra space. Back to this one – the chorus sometimes appears back to back but with different underlying grooves that add some dramatic tension. And I can’t really figure out what he’s talking about:
I’m gonna leave for the morning in the afterlife
And she’s drunk by the daytime
I bet she feels it just the same in the evening
(I bet she feels it just the same, not anymore)”
Hmmmm… concern for a hard-drinking female friend? Or is that all a metaphor having something to do with the great outdoors? Or is it just about skiing? Check out the 2nd verse:
There’s a one way path that’s takin’ me home
Climbin’ up to the peak with a blindfold
Bombin’ down at the top of my lungs screamin’…”
There’s also talk of a headwall (which is a cliff) and a free fall. I’ll go with the skiing. Your guess is as good as mine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The drums are a little rough and in your face, but I think that was the point; the bass is a little amped but doesn’t kill you and even after you’ve heard the chorus for the 5th time it still doesn’t seem like they’re beating you over the head with it. Not my favorite by far, but I’m also not tired of it. Solid opening track.
I’m leery of songs that obliquely refer to the 80’s; they tend to be kitschy or trying to take advantage of nostalgia. This one is different – it almost sounds like a regret. The tempo is kicked up a couple notches for track 2, and there’s a little funk along for the ride. The bass is even more out front (and a little fuzzier) than in the opening song, at least for the intro and verses – but by the time the chorus hits, the keys and bass have locked in together for some potent, pulsating ass kicking.
She don’t want to be with you when you’re acting like that
All drunk, no shame, decided to change your name
You lose, you lose, you lose”
The first verse seems to offer a snapshot of a jackass. The piano drops out for the verses, as well, leaving you with funky bass and drums and keeps you focused on the lyrics and their rapid-fire melodic rhythm. Sounds like somebody’s being a dick. [For more insight into the lyrics, see the comments below for some 411 from juliearciaga.]
As with many of these tracks, there’s a verse followed by kind of a pre-chorus and then the chorus. In many cases I think the pre-chorus is better than the actual chorus, and that holds true here:
Who’s gonna take it home tonight?
Well, the party looks familiar
It takes you back to…
The funky, pounding stop/start groove under the pre-chorus is a great contrast to the soaring, 4-chord chorus section, which features plenty of background vocals and a catchy melody (and a tambourine). This song is loads more poppy than the first single.
There are also a couple of gem piano moments in this tune, namely between the first chorus and 2nd verse, and after the bridge. Great rhythmic lines, some pretty cool key work. My head really swings when I hear those. One of my favorite tracks.
“It’s Only Wednesday”
This song features a driving, 4/4 piano riff (think Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song”, only a bit faster) with a slightly less obvious bass line during the verses. The chorus (with a post-chorus, this time!) is a little more melodic and flowing, with plenty of ride cymbals on top of some slightly more subdued drumming. Cool electrified bass solo, too! Nicely done, Mike. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of extra-curricular stuff going on in this song, but it can hang.
Lyrically, I’m still having trouble with this one. I kinda thought it might have something to do with a pregnant woman and the subsequent birth:
She looks to me and says
But it’s only in the night time, oh, oh
She pulls me closer to her body so I can hear
There’s a kick and then a scream
But it’s only in her dream
I look around and it’s you, oh
I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday
And she can’t see
That everyone was there except for me
I know I don’t wanna lose this time”
…where the kicks are coming from the baby in utero (“pulls me closer to her body so I can here”) and then at the hospital, the father is absent but of course the baby doesn’t know that (“she can’t see that everyone is there except for me”) and he regrets missing it (“I don’t wanna lose this time”). I think maybe I was reaching. But if it’s only in her dream, what the hell is she dreaming about? Is she going crazy, hearing shit? There’s another line in the 2nd verse about “trying to fight the evil in her mind”. Maybe she thinks she’s pregnant, but isn’t. Maybe the kicks and screams are coming from her directly. And what does that have to do with Wednesday? Perhaps it’s been a long week, dealing with a loved one’s mental illness (oh shit, it’s only Wednesday?). Either way, I’m perplexed.
Not that I need to know – but I have a lyrical mind and I like to figure things out. I like things to make sense. Some songwriters don’t like to be literal with their words and don’t want you to know a precise meaning. I can dig that, but it won’t stop me from trying to decipher them, and knowing a specific reason behind a song rarely makes me like it less even if what I thought it was about was completely wrong. I can also totally, balls-out LOVE a song even if I have no idea what it’s about.
The token “ballad” on an otherwise rollicking record, I don’t necessarily dislike this song. It’s got some nice symphonic strings backing it and some lovely piano work. Lyrically it seems fairly straightforward – let’s get away, we need a break. It’s time. Actually, this one may even be a little “sequel” of sorts to “Mountain Man” – the chorus says:
Translation: dudes, we’re going back to the mountain! Pack your ski boots!
Admittedly, if I’m not near the “skip track” button when this song is playing – I will listen to it and not mind terribly. But I usually choose to fast forward if given a choice, and even if I can’t – it’s a decent song once you get past the first 30 seconds. Something in the way he sings the first bars of the verses, and especially the way he bends the note in the middle of the word “away” at about 19 seconds; that vocal melody really rubs me the wrong way. The chorus itself is quite nice! Otherwise, it’s lovely but slow and it just seems like a speed bump in the fast lane that is the album. Next!
The first of two seemingly religious-based songs, this one starts somewhat subdued with a calm keyboard riff and some funky drums. It’s not quite a ballad but still not near as aggressive as most of the rest. The verses stay pretty relaxed but the energy lifts a bit when you get to (the end of) the chorus. Again, here I like the pre-chorus much better than the part you’re supposed to get stuck in your head.
Leaving doesn’t mean that this is over
Don’t forget about the things that make you feel free”
I love the melody in those words and they are probably the most poetic lyrics on the record. It’s a small part but looms large in the song. The chorus leaves me scratching my head a bit:
If you’re a non-believer
Take me for an open-minded soldier
If you’re a non-believer
Wait, I’ll wait here someday”
Are those religious references? Sunday? If you’re a non-believer… in God? What’s he waiting for – you to find religion? Or again, am I reaching? Is it just an overt message of confidence to a lover who isn’t sure of the relationship? I don’t know. The verses both end with the line “you’re gonna light me up in a way I could never explain”, which would be a strange thing to predict to someone you’re in love with who’s not in love with you. It almost sounds like he’s talking TO God, so why would he be asking The Big Guy if HE’s a non-believer? And who needs to be open-minded, and why is he a soldier? Beats me. I’m probably way off. Hell, maybe it’s a continuation from “It’s Only Wednesday” and he’s talking to his baby daughter who’s growing up without him – “leaving doesn’t mean that this is over” – and he split with the mom who’s not going to raise their daughter in a religious household. But, he’s still going to love her even if she isn’t a “believer”. Wow, talk about a reach. Not a bad tune, but in my bottom half.
One of my favorite ways to describe a great, up-tempo song is by saying that it “moves“. Following a couple of slower tunes, this one fucking moves enough for both of ’em. It’s almost like they had built up some kinetic energy over the course of those songs and had to release it all at once. All systems are go, full steam ahead, and delirious, unbridled enthusiasm abounds. There are even a series of loud, sustained, melodic screams in this one. Great stuff.
Lyrically, I can’t quite wrap my head around this one, either. Talk of evolution, monkeys, men, God… from the previous lyrics of “Non-Believer” I got to thinking he was fairly spiritually-minded, but check out part of the first verse and pre-chorus:
With 14 arms, we’ll execute the point that I stress
But that won’t be anything
Compared to what the world has shown us
We’re nothing but a speck
Let’s give ‘em what they’d least expect”
Can a spiritual person seek evolution? Are we nothing but a speck because we are insignificant in the eyes of God, or because we are but a blip in the universe and its billions of years? And what point is he stressing? Or is he trying to find it, and failing – because it doesn’t exist?
And then the chorus:
Think twice, then pretend
To reverse the roles
And tell me what you think is the best
Should you take it like a monkey or a man?
Well, God only knows…”
What the…? Is that pro or con? Dude, I can’t tell – does God only know because God is all knowing (and evolution is bullshit), or because he’s saying he doesn’t know if evolution is valid or not? Pretty deep shit, and I don’t know if I should be scoffing at him for mocking evolution or not. (I am not a spiritual person).
But the song still kicks ass. Bonus points for having the word “monkey” in it. Just saying.
Finally, something I think I understand. Fuzzed-out bass. Right on. There is some seriously furry low end at the top of this tune. And it’s a cool groove. The piano is there eventually, but it doesn’t really take center stage until the chorus, when everything else drops out for a second. This song belongs to Mike and his bass. There’s also a great, swirling coda with overlapping vocals that really caps off the tune nicely. And, it makes sense!
The narrator is missing someone – with lyrics like “I’m standing outside, waiting around without you” and “I never thought I’d live my life without you” – that seems obvious, and standing in for that someone is their raincoat. Their yellow raincoat, to be specific. Didn’t you ever wear someone else’s jacket or coat if you missed them terribly? Especially if they left it behind and aren’t coming back for it? There you go. He misses them so bad, all he wants to do is wear that yellow raincoat. Please, can he wear your yellow raincoat?! He says that about 15 times during the course of the song, and I hear the pain in every instance. There’s a really cool descending melody in the vocal of the chorus when he hits the second raincoat mention… he holds the ‘o’ in “raincoat” for a second and then cascades down the scale to get to the soft ‘t’ at the end of the word. It’s lovely. Great to sing along to, as well. Fun stuff, even if he’s all bummed out.
“You Got Me”
There’s a sexy, dirty, funky vibe in this one, and coincidentally the lyrics follow suit. Great bass riff to go along with nicely accented drums (and some more furious tambourine). It’s Mary vs. Jenny in this one, and the oft-repeated phrase is “I think you got me where you want me, woman!” He intimates some dirty deeds (“Jenny… she does it for me, she’s going down, going down, going down tonight”) and it seems like there’s a wink and a nudge and we all know what’s going on. Then he says:
She looks at me to tell me when it’s over
Cause I would never leave you high, and dry”
Yet another curve ball to keep me swinging. Cool tune, kind of devious, not terribly rockin’ but a great head-nodder. The funky bass leads the charge in this one, again. Piano riffs rock out the in-between between the chorus and “sex-crazed teacher” part. One of the rare instrumental breakdowns in lieu of a bridge gets kinda spacey with some atmospheric background vocals and scratchy synth, and that fades out to end the song. And, it’s pretty cool.
Bombastic is a good word for this one – a tight, bottom-heavy piano/bass riff rocks this out from the start and that theme repeats during the verses (in various configurations) and then again at the end. The first verse showcases the bass & drum combo again as the piano drops out and Tony aggressively sings over propulsive beats. The pre-chorus has a nice ascending progression with minimal drums that builds up into a release of energy in the chorus – which vocally doesn’t start until about halfway into a drum/piano break where Jason is repeating a hard-charging fill pattern with matching bass, underneath a rapid-fire piano line. It’s an interesting arrangement. It even breaks down completely in a bridge with only piano softly building into another release with a full-tilt chorus. I think I might love it.
Lyrics include “take my hand… stay with me… lay with me… I will always be the one…” and repeating “you’re my saving grace”. Pretty straightforward stuff. Best tune of the bunch, me thinks.
Interesting choice to end the album with this song – on the slower side, and not something more representative of the energy in the rest of the record. It’s not a bad song, by any means, it’s just kinda there. A mid-tempo plodder that has some nice moments but nothing that really grabs you by the throat. It’s not quite as pretty as “Come Away” but it’s not quite as slow. I probably would have swapped its place with the previous track, to end with the audacity of “Saving Grace” instead.
He ends the lyrics with a lot of “this time it’s for sure” and the theme seems to be one of reassurance. Or he’s trying to do some convincing. I’m convinced! This is one kick-ass record. You have my love, dude.
And then BOOM! Just like that, it’s over, in barely 36 minutes. It felt like about 20 the way they move through songs – even the space in between tracks is kept to a minimum. I was really looking forward to seeing how they presented their music live, so I made sure to make their show at The Note.
They put on a loud, raucous, energetic, fun, LOUD show! Lots of rockin’ the whammy bar on the clavinet – even got some action shots of that in the photo spread. Jason totally plays with bare feet?! They basically played their entire record plus a couple of unreleased tracks that I thought were even more aggressive and rocked harder than anything else they did; I had to look those up and found a couple of videos online… great stuff, especially “Second Rate Citizen”.
“Second Rate Citizen” (unreleased) – 8/12/09 at The Shore Lounge – Hermosa Beach, CA
I fucking love that tune. That’s a weird camera angle, and you miss the very beginning, but you get some great footage and sound of Jason attacking the drums. There’s another version over here with a wider shot, though probably not as much fun. And I believe that lyric is “I’m not a second rate citizen of the United States… I’m not gonna park in a handicapped zone…” Right on, man.
“Carry On” (unreleased) – Northern Lights – Clifton Park, NY – 3/6/10.
Also a pretty damn good song. And then I found this cover of “War Pigs”, which is mislabeled as “Second Rate” but it’s definitely Ozzy-licious!
“War Pigs” cover – Spokane, WA (sometime in 2009)
They’ve been on the road for some time trying to get this record off the ground, and it seems to be working. [Check them out on Jimmy Kimmel on May 10th!] They didn’t seem to show any wear and tear when I saw them, so they at least do a great job of giving every show their all and not letting any fatigue creep into their stage presence. Check them out if you get any chance at all. They will knock you off your seat.