Photo Credit: Jess Flynn
With 2017’s Birdie, Jake Ewald pushed Slaughter Beach, Dog from a Modern Baseball side project to an exploration of acoustic punk and followed up the release by touring with fellow punk explorers Tigers Jaw. Within the delicate opening moments where emotive cracks are exposed with the gentle squeaks of guitar strings, it becomes clear that the experience has developed Ewald’s song writing and musicianship.
The opening to One Down develops from the sparse emotion of the delicate opening into a haunting reflection on the past. The slide guitar drifts in and out like a past regret as Ewald shares tales with a meticulous sense of detail and honesty. This detail is a development from his previous work and shows a new found confidence in his lyric writing, covering the range of emotions that Modern Baseball are famed for, but with the accessible addition of occasionally mundane aspects of everyday life. The relatability of the more banal moments becomes the strongest lyrical tool within a very good arsenal and this writing device allows emotion to creep in to a song which has a conversational tone.
There are a few musical formulas which are followed and cleverly combined to give this release a real sense of musical flow. The delicacy of musicianship and emotion mixed with clever and well-balanced word play draws comparison to Bright Eyes, Lightspeed Champion, Tony Sly or Owen, but there is something unique about the vocal delivery. The dead-pan post punk fury of the epic Black Oak builds and soars behind the almost spoken word vocal and with Tangerine, Slaughter Beach, Dog have a future live favourite. The tempo is perfect for a head nod or toe tap and the guitar throughout is a masterclass in catchy indie hooks, with the solo in particular nodding towards early Radiohead , Tellison or The Strokes. As the album progresses, these influences are combined slowly to give a real sense of progress.
It is no accident that this progression coincides with the development of a positive tangent within the lyrics. The emotive honesty remains as do the tales of regret but through dark humour songs like One Day bring well-considered positivity. This lyrical device is as effective as it is clever and takes the record beyond expectation. There are moments within Map of the Stars where the vocal tone is completely smirk inducing, like an inside joke that’s hidden from everyone else. As the slide guitar once again adds a little haunting magic, the key change continues the sense of progress and leads into a faded ending that will haunt listeners for days.
Anything ends the album with a master stroke of track listing, tying all of the development throughout the album back to track one, and there is something comforting about how this plays through. The tongue in cheek sarcasm, honesty and confidence to share the smallest details puts a perfect full stop on an album that pushes the idea of stripped back musicianship to its limits.
This album is as great as its predecessor Birdie and to achieve a release with an element of surprise is a huge credit to the song writing and musicianship. Somehow amongst some obscure musical comparisons, Slaughter Beach, Dog have a real sense of accessibility with moments of pure pop sitting right next to the most emotive lyrics.
Standout Tracks: Tangerine, Black Oak, One Down
For Fans Of: Owen, Tony Sly, Tellison
Written by: Ben Adsett