A few disclaimers before we launch into this week’s soul-crushing record review: 1) I hate the name Bleeding in Stereo, which coincidentally happens to be the name of this band. Any band that has “bleeding” in its name — Romeo Bleeding, Bleeding Through and yes, Bleeding in Stereo — should immediately switch to a name without the word “bleeding.”
2) I know the bass player, Tommy Gunn. He’s a nice guy, despite his replacing his real last name with the double-N Gunn. He’s committed to becoming a better musician and songwriter. We’ve worked together. I like him.
3) This band takes itself too seriously, as the name might indicate (more on this later). But somehow, I ended up enjoying their new album, Waiting to Crash. If you want to know more, keep reading. If not, just go to bleedinginstereo.com and have a listen.
Though Waiting to Crash is riddled with heavy-rock clichés, it opens with a fantastic vignette called “Fast Asleep.” Chief songwriter Keith Allen has a great voice, and considering the venue in which he has placed it, he does wonders. At 1:23, “Fast Asleep” should be longer, as it is a dreamy slice of k.d. langesque songwriting. But alas, we shoot headlong into “Say It,” and the clichés begin.
Thick, distorted, over-produced guitars and super-compressed vocals give the songs a very modern feel, and that’s to be expected if you want to “make it” these days. But to me, that shit lacks balls, which is the exact opposite of the intent, to be sure. The rawness is gone, replaced by sanitized instrumentation and hack lyricism resulting in a sort of testosterone-fueled fakery akin to the steroid-fueled muscle-heads you meet at the local gym. They appear big, powerful and tough, but that veneer is easy to see through.
Maybe I should reframe this criticism. Most of today’s modern rock is trash, and most of today’s young bands are trying hard to fit a broken mold. It’s really not their fault. They don’t know that they are listening to and playing crap. It’s the environment in which they are raised, and it’s what’s expected of them. So they do it with the hope of achieving some measure of creative and financial success. (The same could probably be said for the music I listened to in my formative years, except the bands I spent my early life emulating were The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Sly & the Family Stone, and late-’70s Van Halen. You know, good bands.)
A song-by-song analysis of Waiting to Crash would slip quickly into redundancy, but I’ll hit a few key points here. Let’s deal with the positives first. The talent Allen displays as a lead vocalist cannot be overstated. The guy has range, control and depth, and a knack for creating interesting harmonies, despite the limitations of his chosen genre. Track four, “The Agitator,” is a perfect example of this. Set over a heavy odd-time shuffle, the vocals dip into Alice in Chains territory then swing into Virgos Merlot mode. Wonderful sweeping lines fill these tunes. One hopes that as Allen matures, he will move into a more songwriter-friendly arena. This is not to say that heavy rock isn’t songwriter-friendly, but Allen deserves a more interesting canvas. With work, he’ll get there.
More good things: Drummer Eddie Leo Floyd exhibits an impressive command of his instrument. Credited with co-writing a few tunes on Waiting to Crash, he’s a smart drummer, showing restraint when necessary, and going total apeshit when appropriate. He and Tommy Gunn are tight, especially in the solo portion of “Break the Negative,” a staccato unison section that, if performed live in the studio, is all the more imposing. Ditto for the intro of “I’m Telling You.” Great, creative stuff. Too bad there isn’t more of it here.
Now for not-so-goods: These guys take themselves way too seriously. Emphasis on “way.” Again, this is symptomatic of most young bands. They have a point to prove — we’re hard, we’re put upon, and we want to sell records. Look for plenty of emo-chording interlaced with Pantera-like false-harmonic-laden riffage. Don’t look for humor or fun on Waiting to Crash. It ain’t there. This is post-angsty angst written by relatively young, relatively comfortable guys with nice equipment and a budget. From the website: “You will find that the lyrics are a lot deeper than face value … nothing fake here, just pure honest and venerable emotions that life has produced all on it’s [sic] own.”
It’s that kind of overt seriousness that kills my interest. Relax, guys. It’s only rock-and-roll.