Pete Gustard – The Open Vein – Album Review
Crispy beginning sir! I’m loving the guitars that come ripping into the first cut on Pete’s new solo album The Open Vein, it’s called “Goodbye Tommy Goodbye” and it’s got all the energy, personality, and genuinely excited college-rock style sound to it. Right off the drop, it sounds like we’re in for a good time here on this record…Pete’s sounding inspired, the work has clearly been put in from the production to the performance to the songwriting itself…”Goodbye Tommy Goodbye” definitely gets you interested & invested in The Open Vein immediately. Hearing smart moves like how he’ll ramp up the energy to a riotous level around the 3:45 mark only to break it down entirely only seconds later as the song dissolves into its ending…I mean…c’mon y’all…that’s seriously killer stuff. Maybe it’s only musicians out there that would get WHY you would put so much effort into such a small fraction of the song – but in the end, whether we all realize we ‘get it’ or not, our ears do – it’s decisions to go after more and make that concentrated effort towards attention to detail that can make or break the music we choose to listen to. For those of you out there that like your crossover tie-ins, Tommy has shown up as a character included on his band Seashaped’s album A Story Of Trouble & Love as well, and as I understand it, is also based around a legend in his own history & heritage right from the roots of the family tree, esteemed Royal Army veteran Richard Matthew Gustard. According to the notes I’ve got here, “Goodbye Tommy Goodbye” actually features several selections of Richard’s own words…from poems he sent home literally from the trenches during wartime. Incredible way to start a record right? You get a little history, you get a lot of catchiness, and you get a sense of the amount of detail that Pete’s put into this album right from the very first moment it begins. I think right from its twisted piano melody at the start, to the inspired sound of Pete’s guitar, to the catchy hooks of the chorus, Gustard has chosen this lead-tune wisely…”Goodbye Tommy Goodbye” is a solid gateway into this lineup of songs on The Open Vein.
“Don’t You Want To Notice Me” is pretty damn charming, I gotta say. Definitely a case of everything being in its right place here…though it’s arguable that the verse outshines the chorus by a slight margin when it comes to this particular tune. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that of course…and obviously an assessment like that still implies there are plenty of hooks for you to dig on. The verse supplies the beauty, the chorus is more of an energetic release…everything fits together cohesively, all I’m saying is that it was the melody of the main verses that pulled me in right away…overall, it’s a really strong cut. No disrespect to “Goodbye Tommy Goodbye” of course, it’s a great song to start the record with; but I’d be lying to ya by omission if I neglected to mention just how much I looked forward to “Don’t You Want To Notice Me” coming around again every time The Open Vein repeated itself. It’s undeniable that Pete does a whole lot of things extremely well…hard to find any kind of real fault in any of the songs you’ll find on this record when it comes right down to it – but also impossible not to acknowledge how suited to a song like “Don’t You Want To Notice Me” that he is. It wasn’t until my third or fourth spin through this record that I even noticed that Pete doesn’t really start singing until well-past the first full minute – this cut’s got such a smooth and inviting sound to its beginning that time becomes irrelevant versus your own enjoyment. It could have been a half an hour or more of a lead-in and I still wouldn’t have complained. Having said that, the song continues to remain highly impressive, welcoming, and sweet – “Don’t You Want To Notice Me” makes brilliant use of call-and-answer style lyricism & vocals through the verses, working magic in between a strong confident lead and a remarkably distant backing layer.
In my heart of hearts, I can certainly hope people feel as strong about this album as I do. I hear a song like “The Open Vein” and I just start smiling from ear to ear; I’ve known Pete for several years now via the internet & his music from the band Seashaped…and to hear his own evolution as an artist over the years has been an exceptional honor. Hearing his creativity and cunning songwriting in full bloom on his solo album’s title-track felt like I should fucking stand up and cheer for him, even though I’m here in the studio alone by myself listening. This is a completely outstanding example of the artist I’ve always known exists & thrives inside of this man…THIS is how you nail the centerpiece of an album, 100%. Like, for real dear readers, dear friends – put this song on and see if you can even get twenty-seconds in without being fully impressed by the creativity and execution here – it’s staggeringly good! The drum sounds are killer, the feedback at the beginning will send a shiver down your spine, and the grumbly tone of the guitars right after are as gnarly as your ears could ever hope to find. It’s the sheer texture of “The Open Vein” that instantly clings to your bones, but it’s the stunning level of imagination and ambitious ideas that’ll keep your attention locked onto this title-track. Listen to how this transforms will ya? Right around the fifty-second mark, Pete ventures into one of the strongest hooks I’ve ever heard from him…the melody is perfection and the execution is freakin’ flawless…he literally could not have sung this song any better than he does here in the chorus. It’s got a fantastic amount of distance & haziness to it…like that feeling you get when you’re comfortably one-pint over your personal limit but still completely with it enough to enjoy the night in an altered state of mind. As to how he captured such a sound or brought it to life so vividly…that’s the part that’ll make you scratch your head & wonder more than anything else perhaps…songs as unique, catchy, diverse, and as well thought-out as “The Open Vein” are truly rare to find on any record out there – this track ticks every box for a huge WIN. The verses are loaded with intrigue, the chorus is stockpiled with sweet melody that soars straight to the soul…the way Pete sings this song and drifts & floats along with it is straight-up award-worthy, no joke. You factor in the fact that he also reveals some of his raddest tones in his guitar work on “The Open Vein” and smart inclusions like the…hmm…what is that, a xylophone? You’ll get what I’m talking about when you hear it…but whatever it is that’s punctuating the melody in the music was a genius addition.
While I’d love to poke the guy in the ribs and give him a hard time about SOMETHING in this lineup of tunes, just for the pure fun of giving the guy the business – he’s left me nothing to complain about. Listening to the hooks in the melody of the verses on “Drink To The West” and its natural, easygoing, perfectly composed candor…I mean c’mon now folks…you could put a song like this on at any time and it would raise the stakes of your day to a more enjoyable level. The shift between verse & chorus is one of the best you’ll find on the album…Pete sounds freakin’ fantastic as he sings it…major factors like the keyboards in the mix and the distance applied to the vocals play gigantic roles in the overall appeal – it’s a quaint cut in many respects, but every time you examine it up close, you’ll realize how much is actually involved…and it’s damn impressive, I must say. And take stock of where we are by this point…just to give you some perspective on what’s happening here on The Open Vein; it started out catchy to begin with, slipped right into one of its most accessible cuts, then one of its most ambitious, artistic, and creative ones in the album’s title-track – and NOW, we’re here at what’s arguably the most single-worthy cut of the first four! Gustard’s cracking the bat with every intention of knocking each of these experiences straight outta the park, and he’s rocking an incredible average on The Open Vein – I think what he’s got going on in “Drink To The West” is likely one of the most widely accessible songs he’s ever created. It sounds remarkably universal…like it’s the kind of song that everyone should like immediately – and if they don’t, chances are it says a whole lot more about them and their musical taste than it does anything about “Drink To The West” and what Pete’s pulled off with this amazingly smooth melody. The progression from the verse into the chorus is pure magic I’m tellin’ ya, absolutely gorgeous in every way.
But WHERE oh where did THIS little GEM come from Pete? “The Chaos Of Mind” is the kind of song that, to know Pete a bit on paper, would tell ya this is the kind of cut he’s always wanted to create…or at least that’s what I’ve been picking up over the years from talking with him behind the scenes. This is musical ingenuity with limitless versatility…a song for those who can’t sit still too long, you know what I mean? Pete races through a record’s worth of ideas inside of three-minutes and this one song on “The Chaos Of Mind” – and while that’s a noteworthy achievement to begin with, it’s the stunning amount of melody & hooks that he still manages to include in the process that might be the most impressive. And all of this stacks up when you’re talking about a song designed to mimic the mindset or how our thoughts bounce around the inside of our skulls…”The Chaos Of Mind” is a highway hybrid of ideas & sound that is constantly on the move in all directions. From its gentle acoustic beginning, you’d never see this song coming or how much Gustard will morph the sound & structure of this song as it plays on – it makes for one of the raddest surprises you’ll find in this entire set of songs for sure. Perhaps even more rewarding than most surprises you find on a record – it’s not just vastly different from the majority of the lineup, but it’s also a really damn good tune with bulletproof hooks coming at you from every angle as well. Those of you ambitious enough to branch out as far as you can creatively or artistically fully understand the risk that comes with it – half the time our craziest ideas can take us too far beyond what the everyday listener can handle. A song like “The Chaos Of Mind” perfectly straddles both worlds – it gets some of the best out of Pete creatively, while still producing results that people can tangibly hang onto. The added electro-synths pulsing, the insanity of the echo of vocals in the background, and the amazing recording/performance of the lead-vocals are all part of a recipe for success – Pete’s running a clinic on ear-catching sounds & setting up a smorgasbord of creativity for you to enjoy here.
Directly or indirectly, purposely or not, “Breathe” becomes a response to “The Chaos Of Mind,” going in the complete opposite direction with one of the album’s most minimalist moments. Listen to the way the bass comes in to give the song a beautifully warm glow around the 1:20 mark too while you’re at it will ya? Awesomeness. Pete keeps the record’s range of moods & emotions in balance here by adding in the contrast of the serenity of “Breathe” right after the scattered sound of “The Chaos Of Mind.” Lyrically, “Breathe” isn’t nearly as serene or as chill as it seems to appear on the surface; this cut digs deep into the psyche and explores themes of anxiety and how what we go through mentally can end up actually affecting us on a physical level too if we’re not careful. I’ll say this…I think “Breathe” likely has the toughest spot on the record to fill…coming after the ramped-up adventurous nature of a track like “The Chaos Of Mind” would be a tall ask of any song…and there’s a chance that for some, “Breathe” will dial-back the energy established a bit too much. While it’s as well-constructed and performed as any of the other songs on The Open Vein, by comparison to what you’ve just experienced in the song prior, it does feel like you get where “Breathe” is gonna go quite early on. There are advantages & disadvantages that come along with that of course; the advantages being that, if you’re looking at this song as a response to “The Chaos Of Mind,” then that stoic serenity you’ll find in the music really makes a whole lot of sense thematically…and that helps you appreciate the writing of a record from start to finish & what it takes to keep the focus up from beginning to end on every tune. The disadvantage is that by comparison to Pete at his most creative, “Breathe” nearly sounds like an easy task for him in some respects, and perhaps doesn’t quite make enough changes beyond the comfort zone of stability he locks into. It’s pretty hard to argue against it when it comes to the performance, he plays it great, he sings it fantastically…and ultimately, it’s still a really solid song, which is why I cited its tough placement in the lineup on The Open Vein. It’s only by comparison to the rest of the ideas that this cut suffers a little…had Gustard released this as a single on its own, there’d nary a complaint to be made if any at all.
“18 Years” has an interesting flow to it that echoes its theme in a really odd way. Like, the song itself is largely about how life passes by so damn quickly year after year – and…I mean…you kind of have to assume it’s intentional because it’s the only time on the record where this happens, but notice how the transition into the chorus just, like, well…happens! It’s not as obvious as you might think – in fact, it’s completely the opposite; whereas most songs really have that punch or separation that defines their stepping into the chorus & hooks, Pete instead opts in favor of seamless transitions that seem to flow straight into each other naturally. So…if you’re following me…and maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this…but to me, the sound of the song really represented the whole passing of time in a blink of an eye theme by having each part of “18 Years” shift into the next part without us almost even noticing. You see what I mean? Like I said, it just happens; especially on the first go around through this album – you’ll listen to “18 Years,” and before you know it, you’ll be in the center of the melody and the chorus; unaware of how you got there but certain you arrived. While it also brings up the energy a bit more than “Breathe” did, it’s still a pretty laidback cut at the end of the day, which serves to keep the flow of the lineup in-check and give it a chance to build up again from its mid-point forward to the end. The other noticeable advantage of “18 Years” is that it highlights Pete’s storytelling style, not just in the lyrics, but also in the music – this entire song seems to unfold chapter by chapter to us as we listen. Just enough of an acoustic-base and a Folk-style at its core to give it all a highly appealing crossover sound overall – and Pete will flex the boundaries even further by giving this cut an alternative spin as it heads into the three-minute mark in the bridge. All-in-all, from the writing to the production/performance, “18 Years” takes me right back to a lot of the records I loved in the 90’s…almost like it’s somewhere in between INXS’s Welcome To Wherever You Are and R.E.M.’s Monster…which is obviously A-OK with me.
Pete does a better Richard Ashcroft than Richard Ashcroft does, and he’ll prove that once again on the atmospherically-inclined, hazy vibes of “Sell Your Body.” I’ll admit, I cringe a little bit even making the comparison – I’m not even 10% of an Ashcroft fan and I never fell for “Bittersweet Symphony.” Oh, I’m wrong about that you say? Right-o keyboard warriors…you go ahead and tell me all about Ashcroft’s other big hit song and I’ll retract my comments. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to come up with some sort of answer (though you’ll have to be pretty liberal with the term ‘hit’ to do so) – but I won’t be holding my breath because we all know I’d be passed right out by the time you come up with something to say! Anyhow…listen to the song, you’ll hear the comparison is a valid one, but so is my commentary – I’d listen to Pete Gustard all day every day versus what Richard Ashcroft creates; he might be borrowing a bit more heavily here in the sound/style of “Sell Your Body,” but dammit, he’s doing it so much better! Excellent subtlety to the energy & mood here…listen to how much personality the guitar adds in around the 2:25 mark and the role that plays in giving the melody the extra spark in the layers of music underneath the vocals. Pete slides right into this track…he’s every bit as essential to the melody as any instrument in the music is, if not even more so when it comes to the vocals. I’d argue that he carries a lot of this tune on his shoulders…and I’d also argue that it’s him rising to the challenge that makes this song work – “Sell Your Body” has a mesmerizing, captivating, and outright hypnotic low-key rhythm & groove. Probably the cut on this record that’ll be much more addictive than you’d ever expect it to be at first…the more I spun through the lineup on The Open Vein, the more I became attached to this cut.
Revamping, reimagining, and remixing himself into the blissful oblivion of fun & the freedom of creativity – Pete deconstructs and rebuilds the opening track into a Eurotrash collage of sounds on “Goodbye Europe Goodbye” towards the end of the album. I mean…look…you’ll likely find yourself on one side of the fence or the other; think back to my comments of “Breathe” – this is the opposite experience of that…for some like me, that works perfectly…I dig Pete when he gets a little weird & always welcome it. I can’t argue against a flawless cut like “Drink To The West” and its all-out praise-worthy degree of universal accessibility – but I can sure rant & rave in support of ultra-creative songs like “The Open Vein,” “The Chaos Of Mind,” or this artistic second-spin through the opening cut living a new life as “Goodbye Europe Goodbye.” The bottom line is that Pete wears both suits really well – whether he’s looking to create something he knows everyone will be able to easily enjoy, or out there on a limb in an effort to satisfy his own creativity and artistic desires – he’s bound to entertain ya in the process. Does the synth-horn solo-section of “Goodbye Europe Goodbye” likely go on about a minute too long? Yes. Yes it probably does for most people. It’s kinda like inserting the old Dolby Sound or THX promos into the mid-section of a song…or as jarring as the burst of static is at the beginning of any HBO show. Gustard will make sure you’re awake still on “Goodbye Europe Goodbye” one way or the other.
Hang on a second here…just looking up the title of this last track to see what it might be called… Oh! It’s called “Change.” I suppose the first clue would be that the title is also the only lyric involved in the entire song as well. Talk about a call for “Change” – Pete’s doing nothing BUT calling out for “Change” whilst in the throes of one seriously savage jam! You got my attention brother, that much I can tell ya – dude is SLAYIN’ IT on this final cut and giving us a full dose of the power he’s got as an axe-man, stopping maybe just one blue ox short of transforming into Paul Bunyan right before our very ears. I know the man’s been traveling a lot over these past several years since the last Seashaped record called A Story Of Trouble & Love came out…I couldn’t tell ya how much he’s been getting out there on stage in comparison to how much he’d like to be lately – BUT…if he’s not hauling out this finale-worthy cut at the end of every live set he’s playing these days, he bloody well should be! What’s really extraordinary in that regard, is that this recording of “Change” really captures the spirit & essence of a live track – it’s tight as all hell, but it’s still loose AF too, giving you that feeling like Pete is right in the groove at all times throughout this last cut on The Open Vein. Even lyrically – yes lyrically – despite only repeating ONE word, the man is crushing it here on the mic and making the most of that opportunity as well with an idea that is brilliantly executed – this is that final release, that grand-finale, that leave-it-all-on-the-stage mentality, approach, and sound that you wanna find at the end of a record or live experience.
So to be clear here…because I don’t want anyone out there twisting these words in the wrong direction – I loved every song on this record. If there’s a moment where it seems I got critical for a second or two, believe me when I say, even what you’d consider to be the cut you like the least on The Open Vein would likely be an A-side song on any other album. The only thing Pete Gustard is competing with on this record is his own incredible ideas from track to track…and like all music, some songs are bound to generate more of a response or make a bigger impression than other tunes will, that’s only natural.
What’s truly superhuman is making a full lineup of songs and a record as cohesive & entertaining as this one remains from the push of play to the very end. I’m wildly impressed with The Open Vein and I’m stoked for Pete both as a fan and on a personal level – this is a record he should be seriously proud of.
Pete Gustard’s new album The Open Vein is officially released tomorrow on February 17th – find out more from his official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/petegustardmusic
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