New Jersey’s Aspiga technically released “Tense” last year on Solidarity Recordings via the digital and CD outlets, but as 2011 may bring the long-awaited release on vinyl (Solidarity’s proverbial bread-and-butter), the delay affords us the opportunity to take a closer look at the band’s latest album.
Aspiga has been branded as “folk-punk,” but neither of those is really a perfect fit. “Tense” falls into the category of “not-your-average-punk-album.” Acoustic rhythm guitar serves as the backbone to most of the album and allows for some rather ambitious guitar leads. Couple that with the doubled, call-and-response vocals and you get and a sound that owes more to early Modest Mouse or Built To Spill than to anything else. Knowing little about the band’s back story, “Tense” sounds like the first release from a band formed in a college dorm basement, trying to find their way by melding everyone’s individual styles. At times, this works extremely well. “Oh Philadelphia,” in all its melancholy folk-punk goodness, could have been a full-band workup of a b-side from Tony Sly’s “12 Song Program.” Lyrically, “Tense” is first-rate. “Goodnight Virginia” is a wonderfully crafted pop song about hitting the road and “singing songs of politics and heartache “ without “looking for a minute of sleep” and “doing it all again the next night.” The understated vocals on “Dear Self” would not sound out of place on Hum’s seminal “You’d Prefer An Astronaut.”
That being said, at times it seems like the band were trying to take on a little too much. The vocals in “Adjust and then Adjust” are a little melodramatic for my liking, and the track would have been better served had they dialed down the electric guitar lead that swirls through the song. “It Was Windy” suffers from the same problem and would be a stand-out song if it were stripped down and reworked.
Aspiga are clearly very talented in their individual areas, and the solid lyrics point to a band that should stick around for a while if they can flesh out a more precise direction: a common issue for many younger bands. Were we not working on the Whole Number System here at Dying Scene, I’d probably rate this 2.5 out of 5, but I’ll round it up to 3 because it shows a band with a lot of potential.
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