Chicago’s melodic post-punkers Gunner’s Daughter dropped their debut EP, “New Skeletons,” in 2010 on Death To False Hope Records. For those of you that miss the double vocals, chant-along backing harmonies and infectious post-hardcore melodies that gave rise to bands like Small Brown Bike and Avail, “New Skeletons” will find a welcome home on your playlist.
The first thing that catches the ear from the opening notes of the EP’s opener, “Fence Jumper,” is that the production quality is quite high; “New Skeletons” isn’t your typical lo-fi, cranked-out-in-three-days-in-mom’s-garage indie album.
Speaking of the opening track: the three-chord intro to “Fence Jumper” sounds like a combination of that old MTV News riff, and the opening riff of Hole’s “Celebrity Skin.” I don’t mean either of those in a negative way, as the riff is fun and catchy as hell. It is also a sign of things to come for the bulk of this five-song release: fun, catchy as hell post-hardcore riffs abound. “Rusty Wheels” features slightly slower-tempo verses than the opener, and the call-and-response chorus hearken back to a late-80s power pop (especially the line “keep shining on, bright star”).
“Better Days” is more uptempo, and sounds great loud. Also sounds like it would be fun to see performed live: high energy, great riff. Great heart-on-your-sleeve style lyrics as well about never looking back, battling “through the night and living to see the day.” “Satellites” is probably my favorite track on the album. Sounds like the musical offspring of a one-night stand between The Gaslight Anthem and Finch.
The album’s closer, however, is a misstep. “This Isn’t Over” is the latest example in the growing trend of punk/metal/hardcore bands feeling compelled to have the requisite “stripped down, acoustic song to show that we can’t be pigeonholed.” Sometimes this works. “This Isn’t Over” isn’t quite one of those times. While it is stripped down in that it features two acoustic guitars, and while it is lyrically very poignant (hands-down the best lyrics on the album), it isn’t quite stripped down enough; it essentially just sounds like they played their normal material on acoustic guitars. Lyrically it is a well-written song about cherishing those that are close to you, but sonically it would have been better served to either plug in and crank it up like the rest of the album, or to strip it all the way down: one vocalist, one acoustic guitar and a harmonica. The song has good bones, but ends up sounding sloppy and unfocused at times. There is an art to pulling off the acoustic punk thing, and perfecting this art isn’t quite that easy.
All things considered, “New Skeletons” is a very solid album, 80% of which I’ll continue spinning (is that what MP3s do?) for quite some time. If we were being more precise, it would probably be closer to a four-star album, but “This Isn’t Over” is enough of a misstep that I couldn’t pull the trigger. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to see what the new year brings from Gunner’s Daughter.
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