The State School – SloFastSlo – Album Review
It’s often been said that music is quite dependent on timing…would reviews follow that same rule I wonder? The other day, I checked into two albums that were coming out in the mainstream before I had a listen to The State School for the first time…a fact that, on its own, would be of little to no significance at all – but check this out, this gets weird! One of the bands was Explosions In The Sky…a band that just happens to share the same location of Austin, TX as The State School….that was one coincidence…but the other was that I was listening to a song called “Rubicon” by the Deftones at the same time I noticed that The State School was put in front of me from a source known as ‘Rubicon Music.’ Now…I’ll make it clear before there’s any confusion – The State School doesn’t sound like either of these bands…but c’mon…that’s kinda beyond coincidental isn’t it? Am I searching the stars too hard for meaning these days? I think all signs pointed towards an album I was going to enjoy…at least that’s how I interpret that kinda stuff…like the universe pointing me in the direction of something special with a weird trail of bread crumbs you’ll only notice if you look and listen really, really closely…
…and I firmly believe that after hearing what I’ve heard from The State School, that those signs all pointed this direction for a reason. I’m loving what I’m hearing on this record! Is SloFastSlo perfect? No! But only one in a thousand albums ARE – so don’t try & knock them for that; the potential you’ll hear in their writing and the execution of their ideas could put most bands to shame. Aside from a few slight issues here and there within the mix, most everything you’ll find on SloFastSlo will easily fall into the category of extraordinary. Absolutely, 100% impressed by the writing and ideas of The State School.
And for a moment, as “She Said” starts the record, you might actually wondering if you’re about to find another echo of Explosions Of The Sky with the bright guitar tones that begin the song. It quickly becomes much more of an alt-rock-stomp with a fantastic chomp and bite to the verse…the chorus is overdriven to the extreme-end, borrowing from the Brit-Pop/Rock sound for a moment from a long, long way away in the USA. There’s a great build in this song…and even though it won’t go on to be what makes the album memorable for me personally – I do think it’s an extremely strong opener. It really reminds me of the more playful aspect of the early Oasis records and their songwriting…you know, BEFORE they started punching each other in the face every Monday. Great crunch in this beginning, the mix and production all work in their favor here and the song comes out huge in every corner it should with the guitars sparkling each time they exit their massive anthem chorus.
When you hear “What Do You Want From Me?” you’ll probably hear that notable aspect of melody creeping into the music even more as The State School kicks into gear. First of all – the song is awesome – the vocal hook of the chorus is extremely strong and just rolls right out of Brandon Aghamalian’s pocket and right into the microphone…he sounds great here. One of the guitars is heavily filtered with like…the ‘rotary-speaker’ setting…there’s a slight something in this one that kind of implodes the mix a little bit on “What Do You Want From Me?” but nothing so harsh that I’d stop listening to this bright & clever Pop/Rock melody they’ve written on this one. Guarantee you this is a song I’ll be singing around the house and studio all week long thanks to a simple but very effective flow from Aghamalian.
Dan Connolly and Brandon Drake certainly deserve a lot of credit for shaping the overall sound of The State School and truly let some fantastic ideas and sounds fly out of their guitars on SloFastSlo. With the additional ideas put into the melody from Aghamalian and the solid, steady bass-tones of Brant Couch, a track like “Away From Me” really shows a highlight in the ability this band has to connect to their audience with genuine emotion and powerful dynamics in their writing. You’ll notice Dan Barrett take it upon himself to boost the energy around the two-thirty mark on the drums…but largely “Away From Me” really goes after a more tender-vibe until it roars to life in its final minute. Probably one of the songs that suffered the most in the mix…but again, the redeeming factors of how these songs are written make me personally just happy to hear them – I’ll take’em how I can get’em…for now.
That being said…someone please go give these five guys a million dollars and a large studio of their own please…they’ve got some work to do and plenty of music worth making perfect!
You know…I was thinking it was The Verve Pipe that The State School had been reminding me of…but once “I Don’t Mind” began…it felt like I understood the sound and style of the entire band as clear as day. And I asked myself…are they trying to recreate Toad The Wet Sprocket’s Dulcinea album here? It was like a bolt of lightning this realization…I know that this obviously NOT their intention…but MAN…when I thought about the similarities in the writing, the tone of Aghamalian’s vocals and reverbed style here…the production on the song and on the album itself…it all sounds so incredibly close to that time period, perhaps just a little more aggressive and a little more towards the rock-side of the rhythms.
But quite honestly…The State School might remind you of this band or that band – but what they’ve accomplished here is quite remarkable. They’re not going to stop throwing ideas and sounds at you that WORK…that’s just how this is going to go down throughout SloFastSlo, but SorryNotSorry, shoulda said the ol’ ‘spoiler-alert’ before I said all that I guess. But you’ll find all I’m claiming will go on to be true…ironically, I myself was convinced by the time I got into the chorus of “Lie To Me.” I could not get over how stunning the combination of “Lie To Me” and “Bethany” were back-to-back…this album is about to serious slide into some of its biggest highlights right in its mid-section.
“Lie To Me” I think surprised me the most…it kind of starts in a more aggressive tone before eventually breaking-way into an absolutely sparkling & stunning rhythm and melody for the chorus. I think the contrast of the two-main elements in the verse and chorus of “Lie To Me” really add to that captivating, gravitational-pull of the hooks in this song. As much as I might have been a fan of either of the verse or the bridge…I am NOT going to lie to you – it’s entirely the chorus of “Lie To Me” that is going to sell you here. Why? Because that’s about as damn good as a hook can possibly BE, that’s why. As the record steps beautifully into “Bethany” – this is a great moment on the record and terrifically inviting to the ear. Much of it deals with religion and the relation to love & life…the opening guitar melody supports and complements the idea spot-on.
You ever end up swimming around in a pool and you hit that warm patch of water? Not the yellow stuff…but just that unexpected ONE spot in the pool where the water seems to be warmer than the rest and you can’t really explain it? Yeah! Okay…you do…cool! Well…that’s how I felt about “Bethany” and a song like that is the whole reason interviews exist with rock-stars in the first place so we can find out WHAT was in their head when they decide to DIRTY-UP such a beautiful sound for such a brief amount of time. I can tell you that typically…there’s a reason in the writing…usually lyrically…that creates the impulse to go this route. And I don’t know what else to say but DON’T. It could be me…but I just think that a short departure from one sound to another and only once in a song usually ends up sounding as jarring as it does on “Bethany,” which, had it been left to the beautiful melody and rhythm it was locked in would have stayed completely stunning! But for a moment…The State School can control themselves in their mellow-state no longer…and they gruff this one up for a moment in its middle before returning back to the gorgeous melody we were all enjoying!
“Save Us All” has a really great vibe to it…and the clarity returns a lot to the production here on this tune. It’s got a great ‘classic-rock’ vibe to it due to the organ and the distant harmonies…you’ll swear this one was ripped right out of the 60’s…but man, this is an undeniable vein of sound that The State School can certainly deliver perfectly as well. You can hear the comfort in this song…this is a sound that probably brings the most TX out of them on the entire record…but one that certainly works. Aghamalian is entirely effective when the words are kept to repetition like this in the songs of The State School…I like that he doesn’t overcomplicate anything with a ton of words each and every song – he’s smart enough, and the bands smart enough to let the flow of a simple line ring out purely as it should.
If they can have more fun, or play more enthusiastically than you’ll find them playing “Our Country” onstage LIVE – I’ll eat my hat. All this, coming from a guy, that has seen The State School exactly ZERO-times live…but that’s a standing offer and bet. If you’re at a concert from The State School, and you somehow witness that this song ISN’T the highlight in the live-set…you’re welcome to track me down and I’ll grab my fork & knife and get to chewin’ that hat. I think “Our Country” might have been the toughest in the mix-department since early on with “Away From Me” – and although it kind of allows you to picture it and hear it in your mind a little more towards that ‘live’ sound…you can hear it’s just missing its mark slightly on the record here. BUT…that being said, and again referring back to the earliest comments of the large potential in this band…I mean…C’MON – “Our Country” is exactly the amped-up kind of alt-rock song I absolutely dig on. I could eat bowlfuls of this song.
Okay…side-note for you and embarrassing personal-reveal for you all…sometimes I get distracted. An e-mail will come in…something while I’m tippity-tapping here on this keyboard and listening to music…and if I’m not careful, I’ll get involved in whatever it is and just let the music play until I realize I’ve done this and come back to what I was originally doing. BUT! It takes something powerful to snap me out of that trance once it starts…I just wanted to say on-record here, that the moment of this album from The State School that just achieved that was once the chorus of “Lie To Me” began to jump from the speakers again. Without question – every time that part of the album comes through, I hear it 100%. I’d even go as far as to say it’s the most powerful ‘section’ of music they’ve written throughout this entire album.
Where was I? Right – “The Anger.”
Now…don’t get me wrong…there’s obviously a LOT of The State School that wants to rock right out, and they’ve taken the opportunity to demonstrate that a few times within the album without fully letting it loose. I’m a melody guy…that’s what speaks to me in music…and it’s not that rock itself is without melody – it’s just often not the main focus of the rock ‘song’ when that’s the intention. The State School does melody so incredibly well that I almost found it surprising that “The Anger” shifts the end of this record towards a much harder rock-vein…but in my opinion, one that’s a little more typical and one that kind of seems like it has a lot less ‘them’ in it. I think that both “The Anger” and the final track “SloFastSlo” both walk that fine line of sending the band into the sea of sameness for sound rather than the stunning impact that the previous eight songs had been making. Still well-played and well-executed…there’s great blues-rock solos in the title-tune towards the middle of the song…but overall, I found that these songs sounded like the amped-up energy you’d assume would leave the listener with the most impact and memorable moments…but that writing-wise, they just didn’t quite measure up to the strengths they’d already shown us throughout the rest of the album. With both of these songs occurring at the end of the record…it’s also theoretically possible that maybe an eight-song album was potentially discussed…I think ending it on “Our Country” would have given them ten-times the amount of impact at the end of this record and the conclusion that they were ultimately seeking by adding these last two tracks in there.
Let’s keep in mind as well…that 80% as a result is better than I performed on basically any test in school…so if you ask me, The State School are well on their way to something great here. I think from what you can hear in the mix, the newness of the band and the spread-out nature of the ideas – there’s a lot of things still being refined as The State School continues to develop and define their sound. But with that being said – this is about as killer of a start as you could ask for – their ideas soar brightly with sonic-brilliance and the potential of this band could easily take them right to the top of your playlist.
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