|Photo by: Provided|
Key Tracks: "1940's Fighter Jet," "Diamond Eyes," "The Whale and Jonah"
Children's voices screaming and giggling. Distorted feedback. Count us in: "1-2-3-4!" Instruments come in full force.
Cleveland's The Sidekicks' newest release, Awkward Breeds starts high-energy. The opening track, "DMT" lets listeners know that Awkward Breeds is not the same recording as their first LP released in 2007, So Long, Soggy Dog.
Not that the band has lost their punk influence. Rather, the band has focused in on that DIY sound that gained them a following and, unlike 2009's Weight of Air, does it seamlessly. At times, Weight of Air sounds fuzzy and lo-fi, the band still holding on to a punk sound but with Awkward Breeds that sound is effortlessly evoked by all around better production values. "Grace," the second track on the album really shows this off. Vocals mixed over slightly distorted guitars--the band has found its groove.
The opening chorus of the album admits a dichotomy between the mellower pop-punk sound of the album and the heavy lyrics, "So you're sowing your awful seeds / That grow into awkward breeds / See the rain, see the torturing… / From inside you don't have to feel." Lead singer Steve Ciolek and vocalist Matt Scheuermann complement each other vocally and belt out the word "feel" with emphasis. "You don't have to feel / Do you want to now?"
If one were to feel out this album, it would just be a collection of poppy choruses and catchy riffs accompanied by harmonic "woohs" and subtle Weezer-esque nuances. For instance, "The Whale and Jonah" is slow and articulated but uses a similar chord structure and distortion as Weezer's "Mykel & Carli," and even ends on a sing-along repetition of "wooh."
Where this album stands out is beyond that initial feel. "Forget the matches that they sold to you," sings Ciolek in "Grace," urging the listener to share with him in this moment of desperation--together as an awkward breed denying what society has sold us that were supposed to light fires.
"Incandescent Days" repeats the line "what we all want" over and over to the point that the echo seems to question Ciolek; "what we all want," says Ciolek. "What we all want?" shouts back the rest of the band. The song closes with the familiar young girl's voice from the opening seconds of the album happily proclaiming "I want to be a…" the rest is indecipherable due to the sound of a dissonant chord that leads to the next track, "1940's Fighter Jet."
The opening line, "You were using me for cover / After we hit the ground / Those aren't stars those are airplanes / Overhead for the air-raid / I hope we both live on / I hope my engine gets me home" brings the listener down along with the clean chords strummed softly behind Ciolek's voice. Ciolek expresses a false hope with these lyrics--planes that look like stars, a beautiful air raid. "Free like your shoulders in your clothes," he continues, "Free like the Bible you just stole / Free like the hand that you hold and let go / Let go." The intensity in Ciolek's voice is palpable between two in-ear speakers, spitting each word out with as much ambiguity in the lyrics as there is spite. "Standing in line for bread and wine / They told you you just had to receive it," shouts Ciolek. The build-up to the climax of the entire album begins, the bass slowly chimes in while Ciolek and Scheuermann sing together as the entire band comes in.
The outro leads into the intro of "Diamond Eyes" without even a split second of silence, continuing the intensity. But "Diamond Eyes," unlike "1940's Fighter Jet," is an all-electric set similar to the beginning of the album. "I could die if I had to leave" continues Ciolek on the topic of helplessness in the album. "We're only just kids throwing rocks in the playground / You took one in the temple you better just stay down / Since you're too far from home you just run away now," are the lyrics that end the song, followed only by a chorus of "oh-ohs" and power chords.
Awkward Breeds finishes on a catchy-note, "The 9th Piece" being the punchiest, most Soggy Dog reminiscent song. Following that is "Looker," an acoustic song with skeptical lyrics and a twinge of romance/heartbreak.
"Baby, Baby" is as '90s revivalist-rock as the album gets. Distortion-heavy and grungy drums add to the sound while Ciolek's vocals get drowned out at times by the sheer volume of the chorus.
"Daisy" finishes Awkward Breed, leaving the listener with the repetition of the question, "Daisy, Daisy / When will you decide? / Save me from the fires of their lies." A minute later and the instruments cease in a way typical of a rock band ending a live show, with a solo and a drum clash followed by a drawn out final distorted note signifying ambiguity in the static of that note. A drawn-out delayed answer to a question. What do we all want?
The bald eagle on the cover beckons metaphors to the American dream promised all of us and Ciolek seems to be saying that he is an awkward breed that just does not seem to fit that mold. The name Awkward Breeds suggests that he is not alone in this feeling of discontent, but for now one can just be content enough to press play again and listen to Awkward Breeds over again.
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