Pete Gustard – Battlefield Ballet – Album Review
Well now! That’s definitely some of the best album artwork I’ve seen…ever? Amazing. Provocative. Enticing. An image like that is as artistic as it is insightful…but really, we should expect nothing less from Pete Gustard at this point in his career, you know what I mean? This dude cracked our yearly top ten in 2020 for plenty of justifiable reasons – he all-out crushed it with his last record called The Open Vein, and it should only be natural to conclude after hearing that album, that he’d continue to surge into the prime of his career right now. The audible evolution of Petey’s music is something everyone would be able to hear; he was off to a fantastic start when I first crossed paths with him in reviewing his past band Seashaped already – but as a solo artist armed with time & experience, he’s been hitting that next-level he’s been seeking out. I’d imagine if you asked Gustard right now yourself, he’d tell ya he’s making the music he’s always wanted to make right now, and he’d have great records to prove that’s the truth. I don’t think this is the result of going solo so much as it is the natural effect & evolution of an artist that is dedicated to the craft beyond words…music is everything to Pete Gustard, and you can hear that in the progression he’s made over the years…every step he takes with his career leads him forward in the right direction. Battlefield Ballet confirms that…Gustard’s tapped right into the art on this new album.
The real question is…is it BETTER than The Open Vein was? That’s what you wanna know right? Well! I’ve got great news for ya on that – the answer is simple! Battlefield Ballet is easily…umm…it’s a…hmm, you know something? I better not just give that away up front or half of you out there will stop reading right now, wouldn’t ya? You’ll just have to put up with this leading paragraph & read more to find out…
Dude’s got courage…that much I can tell ya. He’s got the first track “From The Upper Branch” out there now with its own video as the lead-single…and…I don’t know if that’s something I would have predicted, or expected to find really. Co-written/produced with Chris Smith…I’m of two minds when it comes to this first track I suppose; it stands out for many great reasons and creates a favorable initial impression for sure – I guess just not in that typical single style of structure and sound you’d normally find. Which again, is pretty in-line when it comes to the music & direction of Pete Gustard – he likes a ton of things, and as a result you’ll find his albums always contain a real versatile & hybrid thread that runs seamlessly through the set of songs he’s workin’ with on any record, and certainly Battlefield Ballet included in that. Beyond all that – who knows what any artist’s or band’s plans might be…”From The Upper Branch” might be the first video we see, but Pete could be working on having every one of the eleven tracks from this album get one too…this could simply be the first of many. Do I think it’s the ultimate single on the record or the ultimate gateway into the album? These are probably better questions. The answer to the first one is no, but I have no real objections to the second; I think the chorus is loaded with swagger & style for miles & plenty of memorable hooks, I think the verses have a unique cleverness supplied by music and quirkiness/creativity of the vocals…there’s a chance it’s a bit more interesting than what you might normally consider in your daily entertainment , but I think “From The Upper Branch” does indeed still stand out for a plethora of reasons from smart choices in the structure, to the effects & production. Message & meaning-wise, I’m loving it – the caption with the video reads: “The 3 ages of mankind. Discovery. Capitalism. Extinction.” As far as I can tell, that’s as accurate as 2+2=4…and with the way things are going, almost comforting in that regard…I figure if we can all get off this rock lucky enough to not be babbling about how 2+2=5 by the end of it all, we might just have a shred of hope for whatever might be in-store for the future to follow. Maybe. “From The Upper Branch” gives the record room to expand while still presenting a point of view, a valid perspective, and high-quality vibes to entice you in.
Pete, like many of ya, has had a hell of a lot of time to think and plan things out over the course of last year during the pandemic era…and he’d be another one of the examples I’d definitely point to in terms of using that time wisely. Like I’ve said at least a few times on these pages of ours now, we all know what the negatives are – but we can’t ignore the fact that art & music have once again risen to the challenge of its timeless battle in documenting our humanity…tracks like “Celebration Isolation” are a part of that legacy now. Rather unapologetically really, Pete highlights how it really hasn’t been all bad. No disrespect to anyone out there that has lost someone or been affected by the pandemic & its various societal side-effects…my heart goes out to each & every one of ya, and I’m sure Gustard would feel the same way himself – “Celebration Isolation” speaks more about how to go about using that extra time we’ve all had on our hands than it does anything else…except perhaps Pete himself & his own creativity. As in…you wanna know what he’s been doing with his time during the lockdowns & whatnot? Have a listen! “Celebration Isolation” will pretty much spell it all out for ya right there through your speakers – and the entire lineup of songs you’re listening to are further confirmation he didn’t let that spare time go to waste. I cannot even begin to express just how much frustration I’ve hidden from so many people out there over the course of this past year…it’s been extremely tough to call out anyone for being any kind of lazy, because we’re all going through things from different perspectives and affected by this differently…but let’s just say I know who has been capable of creating and making moves throughout these isolated times, or putting up a simple online stream or a video clip to stay active – and it’s been truly shocking to see how many artists & bands I know of simply send all that free time into the void. As hard as it has all been on us, art & music are so very often our salvation & the blueprint to our rebound – to hear Pete’s new record and know he’s used every spare minute & free moment towards his music is the dose of inspiration I feel like I was looking for. All of this COVID-induced madness & the horror stories we’ve all heard on repeat…some good needs to come from it, somehow – “Celebration Isolation” proves that’s still possible – Gustard’s fully in the groove & genuinely making the most of his time, 100%.
Alrighty…so. I have spent…what seems like hours down the rabbit-hole trying to connect the dots on “The 14th Of July” – and I might just have to admit…I think I’ve been bested here; all I can tell ya for a verifiable certainty is that it’s one of my favorites on this record regardless of whether or not I truly ‘get it’ when it comes to the core central theme. I’ve tried everything! I’ve Googled the date and gone down the historical route…there are potential threads of tie-ins, but they’d be loose ones…though interestingly enough in terms of overall relevancy to the right here & now, that was apparently the date of the 1798 US Sedition Act. Then there’s the whole insatiable hook in the chorus that mentions an Emily of some kind…or at least…that was what I thought at first…and I ended up looking up pretty much all of Emily Brontë’s entire history. But that wasn’t it either, was it now Pete? It took me quite a while to figure this all out 100%, but I’m a determined man; and the spoken-word samples he’d included were so brilliantly authentic and incredibly moving – they had to be real; and they were. Though…interestingly enough…and keep in mind, I’m just catching up here and trying to scratch the surface of all this right here in real-time essentially…in the world according to Wikipedia, we’ve got a discrepancy on the actual date of British activist Emmeline Pankhurst’s official birthday…they list it as the 15th, Pete’s got it here as the 14th…maybe that’ll matter to the hardcore Pankhurst fans, maybe it won’t…maybe Emmeline was born in the middle of the night right on the nose of midnight – I don’t know the full details on that…again, all I can tell ya is that I can’t imagine anyone out there not coming to the conclusions that this is one of the real gems to be found in the lineup of this album. It just IS. As empowering as it is entertaining, as inspired as it is enlightening – the effects on Gustard’s vocals are pure sonic perfection, the melody is equally effective, and the lyricism is vivid, crystal clear & insightful. While it’s impossible to detail all of what Emmeline accomplished in the pursuit of the woman’s suffrage movement, Pete’s done a stellar job of displaying how her strength & courage continue to echo on proudly today – “The 14th Of July” is every bit as much of a historical tribute as it is a song with single-worthy sound beaming through every pore of your speakers…people will love this tune & in the process, just like you can see happened to me right here…hopefully, we’ll all learn a lil’ something by listening.
From the neon-bounce of “The 14th Of July,” you’ll shift into the more melancholic & acoustically-driven sound of “Ballad Of Injustice” right afterwards…and oddly enough, I really don’t think anyone out there is gonna have too much of a problem navigating what’s actually a mile’s worth of difference between these two tracks. Listen to that stand-up bass though will ya? Practically steals the show here! There’s just something about hearing that so distinctly in a song that can’t be beat when it turns up…and from the bells to the clicking of the tape to rewind whenever Pete mentions the word “reverse” in the hooks – the owls in the background & lightning…rain-like percussion…the strings in the atmosphere…everything you’ll hear cues you into the fact that you’re in for a more serious set of weighted emotions & thoughts here, which is what Pete’ll have no problem supplyin’ ya with. Listen to that guitar tone! It comes in so fantastically fuzzy around the 1:40 mark, I love, love, love IT! No stone was left unturned throughout the details that line a track like “Ballad Of Injustice” – and for those out there taking a deeper dive into the music they listen to, you’ll really love how much has been put into this cut from performance to the production it has. If you were passing by a stereo with this one quickly, you might hear it as a Folk tune perhaps…or an atmosphere Alt-Blues/Rock song of sorts…but the real magic to be found on “Ballad Of Injustice” comes from digging right under the surface to discover its many details from the microphone to the music. I’ve mentioned how Pete reminds me of Michael Hutchence of INXS in the past and I still continue to feel that comparison is fully apt & righteously cool as well if you ask me…a track like “Ballad Of Injustice” will even use similar effects to how you would have heard Michael’s vocals on a record like Welcome To Wherever You Are back in the day. Subtle, stylistic – and substantial – “Ballad Of Injustice” flexes that true songwriter’s muscle with strength, balance, focus, and gripping emotion in abundance.
“#NotForever” works really well…and I felt like this was a solid example of how a song can works its magic even more as you repeat your way through a record. Because I’ll say this…you get your dose of energy upfront early on with “The 14th Of July” – and both “Ballad Of Injustice” and “#NotForever start to shift the vibes into slower & more melancholic melodies guiding the music. Like I mentioned – this is where you start to really appreciate how Gustard writes his material and approaches music – he’s really looking to create tangible moments in time that make an impact…and there’s no doubt he’s done that exceptionally well throughout this whole lineup on Battlefield Ballet – even in spots like this where the energy somewhat noticeably starts to dip in terms of tempo, he’s created material that fully retains our interest. He doesn’t just survive the transitions between style & sound, Pete practically thrives on it – and the passion he’s got for diversity & such a range of ideas in the music he makes, continually generates compelling & captivating results. Sometimes even with all the amazing things that can be happening in a song, it’ll be the simplest moments that end up resonating the strongest and making the most memorable impact on us…and I’d argue that’s potentially the fate of a track like “#NotForever” – as great as everything is, when you hear Pete sing “let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go” – it’s everything. It’s that release you’re looking for…that moment of serenity…the calming of the mind…a mantra for personal peace and a reminder of what’s important…it’s one of the most beautiful moments I’ve heard come out of Pete’s entire catalog. Written as a delicate but bold documentation of how the effects of all we’ve been experiencing…all we’ve taken in lately…affects our mental state in a variety of ways; it’s a cycle of madness that might be enhanced currently, but as the lyrics & historical samples included will remind you as well, there are issues that have been affecting us all for years that continually come back. I think we all feel that cultural shift occurring right now. I think we’re in that real battle between light & love, and dark & death…and I know what we’re willing to fight for. “#NotForever” = change is coming.
“Wake Up” is a rad tune. I had my moments here & there at first where I wasn’t sure if there was quite enough balance between the sleepier design of the verses and the stunning beauty to be found in the chorus…but I gotta say…again, the effects of repetition prove the strength in any tune, and the more you listen to “Wake Up,” the more I’d suspect you’ll fall in love with it. That extra sweetness & added joy to be found in the main hooks of this cut are as refreshing & welcome as it gets…the backing vocals are perfection…and I love the final run this track goes on from the guitar solo to the chorus finale. Other highlights to be found…I mean…c’mon, they’re everywhere on this record once again for Pete Gustard – but listen to the spectacular sound of the drums will ya? Or listen to how the main line of the chorus comes out with that same uplifting & addictive style of vibe you might find in an MGMT track – that’s rad too. The hint at the guitar solo to come is minimal, but adds it in the mix early on to help establish the transition into it later on seamlessly…the rise into the chorus will tug you right at the heartstrings every single time you hear it – Pete’s beaming with light & love as he breaks through the more serious vibes you’ll find throughout the verses & surrounding instrumentation of “Wake Up.” Even the “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon” sounds so impressively natural and welcoming…especially after you have a couple spins through it – Gustard’s signaling that bright change and main transition coming, inviting you to join him.
When it comes to the lineup of impressive material on Battlefield Ballet…there is…so much of me that wants to yell out about how “In The Daylight” is my favorite song…and I am…trying…not to…expecting that I will fail in that regard, miserably. Look…I’m not claiming that it has the same kind of appeal or degree of accessibility that a song like “The 14th Of July” had earlier on…but what I am tellin’ ya, is that a track like “In The Daylight” might very well be the unsung hero of this entire record. With the degree of effects being used in the vocals and the delicate psychedelic nature of the entire vibe, it’s easy to get how a track like this could be overlooked on those first couple spins – and hopefully it’s people just like myself that’ll convince you that you CANNOT MISS this moment in time on Battlefield Ballet – it’s straight-up extraordinary. The use of texture & tone…the searing guitar used is beyond brilliant, and so too are the vocals; right from the drop this track starts out with an epicness to it provided by the spoken word intro…and as you slip into the dreamy vibes to follow, you float right into this sensory experience and feel every moment of it. From the jazzy percussion to the sparkling guitars, to the vocals soaring throughout the distance, the back & forth trading between the textures & tones of Pete’s voice – I mean – absolutely everything stacks up into a massively mesmerizing & completely memorable highlight. Just give it some time…let “In The Daylight” have its way with your ears a couple times, you feel me? You’ll find this mellow set of sounds is one of the most vibrant and lively on the entire record when you listen close – the entire final minute of “In The Daylight” is worth the full price of admission on its own, 100%.
Listen…I don’t know what could have followed that moment…I really don’t. I felt like Pete gives you a decent option with “Career Choices” – but I’ll readily concede, I felt like this was the hardest spot on the entire record to fill coming after the sheer sonic brilliance in the end of “In The Daylight” right before it. In some ways, I think that almost makes a song like “Career Choices” a fair candidate to become a single, if only so that it gets its proper due & people notice it as much as they should. In my opinion, the overall switch in sound & style here might be a bit larger of a gap than many listeners will expect to find in context of the lineup, even with all the proven versatility & hybrid moments revealed along the way already – but ultimately, I still think Gustard’s got a strong cut here as well, and another highly balanced one. I’d imagine that with time & repetition through the record, the hooks of “Career Choices” will continue to grow more addictive…it had that effect on me; more subtle than the way I felt about say, “#NotForever” in that regard, but still a song that trends upward positively every time you listen to it. In some respects, it felt like “Career Choices” might be missing that one real defining moment that you’ll find just about every other song seems to have on Battlefield Ballet – even its main hooks occur almost in the background – but overall, it seems really hard to conceive of anyone complaining about this tune. Pete’s melody is strong, he sings it with confidence, it’s got bold sound & the insightful lyricism you love him for…and arguably, he gives you a bigger glimpse into the personality & character of the man behind the music, perhaps revealing key details of experiences that molded him into the artist he’s become.
All that being said, it’s “Career Choices” that sets up “My Quiet Hour” for the success it has. This is…well – I mean…this is a hit for all of us listening, correct? Because if there’s something not to love about this song, I’m positive I missed it. The only thing I wrestle with about “My Quiet Hour” is whether or not it would make as big of an impact as “The 14th Of July” would make as a single…and part of me suspects it could easily rival that song’s potential with the masses out there, or perhaps even surpass it. Let’s face it – in many ways, it’s entirely apples & oranges to even discuss something like this…two different songs, two entirely different vibes…two different goals – a track like “The 14th Of July” almost seeks to educate primarily and entertains in the process, whereas “My Quiet Hour” sounds like a song you just can’t help but turn the heck UP to the rafters no matter what time of day it is, for that soulful release that only the real magic of music can provide us with. I can tell ya for a fact some of my favorite guitars on this record are running all throughout this tune…guest-star Gareth Adshead is outright sensational on this song if you ask me, and provides us all with exquisite instrumentation to enjoy. PLUS, Pete is crushin’ it on the vocals here with what might very well be the highlight of all highlights for him on the mic throughout Battlefield Ballet – you couldn’t ask a single thing more from him than exactly what you’ll get from here. The main hooks he’s rocking as the chorus begins to build are spectacular…frantic…intense…melodic…it’s all that & more…Gustard sounds like you can hear the energy building up in him, and that second half of the chorus delivers the payload. Not only does that all work incredibly well, but the effect of the dynamics in this song make it so that the return back into the mellow of the verses seems even more addictive the next time it comes back…and honestly, so on & so on…”My Quiet Hour” is electrifying, amped-up fun, and melodically nuclear. Even with the often devastating lyrics Pete will sing on this cut, the inspired spark of hope cannot be contained…like it’s clearly to the point where it’d be foolish for him to even try to hide it on us. Instead, it’s all about pushing past the pain, getting revenge on what holds you back, and letting that moment take over…Gustard is so right into the zone here that it’s undeniable – he’s turning potential tragedy into triumphant & defiant art here on “My Quiet Hour” – this is how you ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’ and do it with some damn style in the process! If you could somehow merge the folksy-rock bliss of something like Golden Smog, and infuse the songwriting & vocals of Better Than Ezra, with a lil’ Weezer-esque fun in the music and good ol’ fuzz in the guitars…I mean, you’d have this very song here.
Lemme tell ya kids…when you’re as dedicated to the art of making music as Pete Gustard is, it shows – and as fans, I can promise ya, the more you dig into it all, the more you’ll get out of it. There’s a solid gem on The Open Vein…well, one of many but you get the point…it’s called “The Chaos Of Mind” – and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s required listening prior to hearing “The Beauty Of Mind” on Battlefield Ballet – it’s certainly an example of how Gustard makes his music more of an experience, with threads that tie things together, even over time. I mean, he even gave you an example somewhat the last time around on The Open Vein as well with the appearance of “Goodbye Tommy Goodbye” and “Goodbye Europe Goodbye” showing up on the same record. In this instance, he’s tying two records together – and in the process, he very well might be revealing one of the most insightful & key details you can find upon this whole album. Think of it this way…on his first solo record, it was “The Chaos Of Mind” – and this time around, it’s “The Beauty Of Mind” – which, incidentally, also transitions from one cut to the other in the process when you listen – chances are it’s more than coincidence and quite likely reflects Pete’s mindset…perhaps an update on his own state of mind, and where he’s currently at now. With a single phrase repeated by many vocalists throughout a spoken-word/electro-jam combo goin’ on – the sage advice of “life is what you make it” is doled out in a brilliant variety of ways, going even further to prove the point of how it’s not only essential wisdom we all need to hear – but we all share this sentiment at our core. Go on…I’ll give ya a minute or two to soak that in…you know it’s 100% true. In any event – freakin’ amazing mate – I gotta say Pete, “The Beauty Of Mind” was another genuine gem that I don’t think anyone out there listening would ever see coming, but certainly welcome every time.
So. We’re here. We’ve reached the end – just the Depeche Mode-esque sound of “Project Eject” to finish it all off in style, which it certainly does. I like it! It wasn’t a gear I expected Pete to go flexin’ on this record…and I’m not even sure I realized that was something he had in his bag…but “Project Eject” definitely has that distinct Depeche Mode/David Gahan vibe goin’ on and I don’t think anyone would miss it with the guest vocals of Chris Smith in there. As successful within a style & sound like this as he has been with so many others along the journey through Battlefield Ballet – “Project Eject” delivers that one final twist to the record before it’s all over. With it being so decisively different than the rest of the set, it almost does seem like it plays like a bonus-cut on this new Pete Gustard record, but I’d imagine people out there will dig this track for the weight it carries and how he’s able to thrive in yet another variation of his own sound. The flashy vibes of “Project Eject” suit him well – it’s really just a matter of personal taste when it comes right down to it and whether you prefer a stylistically slick design like this over the more mellow cuts he creates, or the wild infusions of colorful Rock moments he’s put into the mix along the way is all. Either way, by my estimation, you really can’t lose…Pete’s got an entire set-list of quality music here for ya.
Does it surpass the awesomeness of The Open Vein? I mentioned that debut record was awesome at some point in time, yes? How about this – I felt like Battlefield Ballet was an intense rival. Ultimately I felt like you can hear the evolution in Pete Gustard once again, but material-wise, I gotta say, this album is every bit as stellar as the last one was…I’d be a fool to tell you one was any better than the other when it comes to the music. Maybe slightly stronger production, maybe slightly more confident performances, maybe slightly more addictive even…but we’d be talking about splitting the finest of hairs. What impressed me perhaps more than any other singular moment on Battlefield Ballet, was the remarkable consistency and professionalism in Pete’s music between both his solo records and how there’s such a wealth of incredible material and memorable cuts on each…like I told ya, he’s in the zone. Stoked to hear this guy at the top of his game once again, holding strong, sounding inspired, and making quality cuts that are as compelling as they are courageous – don’t miss out – Pete Gustard’s brand-new record Battlefield Ballet is officially available everywhere in just a couple days-time on July 28th this year.
Find out more about Pete & his new record at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/petegustardmusic
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