Danvers is one of the best up and coming acts in recent years when it comes to purveyors of power pop. Although they’ve had a constantly evolving sound, the level of all around quality and blue collar work ethic has always been there. But despite that, they also rank near the top of most underrated punk bands for some reason. Since early 2013, these Steel City boys have experimented and fine tuned their style and after almost four years seem to have locked in a signature sound with their newest offering and debut full length, Jazz Standards, which follows two prior EPs Gallant and Gallant, Side C. The growth from album to album is palpable, with this latest release showing the most marked improvement. I’m not talking minor improvements either, there are massive leaps in quality, that you can pinpoint as you listen through their catalog. The general theme of this album may be about coming to terms with the realities of adulthood and losing friends as lives and priorities change but the theme for this review’s sake will be ‘Variety’. Every song is divergent from the last, never getting served the same meal twice which is, unfortunately, a rare trait in most, modern pop acts. If you have yet to give this quintet a listen, Jazz Standards is a great jumping off point. Check out the full review below!
Opening with a quirky, thirty second gem redolent of mid-90s pop punk heavyweights Down By Law is “Open Fire, Lou”. It’s fun, fast and slightly frivolous but it sets the tone nicely. Another parallel to the Florida, punk legends is “Building a Better” which, in addition to being short and sweet (clocking in at around thirty seconds as well), also sounds a lot like something ripped from Punkrockacademyfightsong. Even though they’re short “intermission” type songs, they have substance to them and have the most positive messages on the LP which is good to cleanse the pallet from some of the more depression inducing tracks, neither feels like they’re just filler.
As mentioned previously, variety will be a common thread for this review. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the vocals and melodies from song to song. “The Brave and the Bold” has excellent, non-traditional, loose harmonies with gang choruses mixed in the background. But in “Motorcycle Gang Vocals” just a few tracks further down the list, the highlight is the addition of the aggressive, frantic backing vocals of guest vocalist, Tom Bango of hardcore act Steel City Firm. Compare to that to the polished harmonies near the end of “Eight One Forever” or “Oakland at 11” (although the tempo changes and transitions are more of an attention grabber, there) and you can clearly notice the differences. In another effort to keep things from getting stale and showing a nice touch of finesse, “The First Word is Outlive” mixes in female vocals in the form of guitarist and lead vocalist Lee Yarnell’s friend Leanne. It’s these minor improvements and additions that accumulate, eventually propelling acts well beyond their counterparts.
The vocals weren’t the only show of diversity though, the lyrical content on each track was just as idiosyncratic. In “Mainline 76” the words are skillfully squeezed in fitting lyrics where they just shouldn’t fit. Helping to pull it off is the distinctive style of the aforementioned lead man, which is tenuous in parts and on the verge of sloppy (in a good way). “Gillespie Was a Fucking Genius” which is about the changing dichotomy between friends as they travel their individual life paths, switches the songwriting up again, becoming more personal and conversational in nature (The trouble here’s not your romance/As the crews roll by on the southern streets/I’m just proud enough to admit/The struggles I’ve had with losing friends this far), a trait that is native to this song. That fact points to an intentional readiness to depart from the norm and reach outside of their comfort zone.
While some of the songs show off the group’s ability to mix things up, others are a culmination of all of their best characteristics. “Save the War Stories, Hot Shot” which is my personal favorite, is illustrative of this “perfect storm”. Not only is the writing exceptional (brought nothing to fit/in like you mean it/the words are therapy/sung from broken amplifiers), the music is just as much factor in adding to the tenor of the song. It builds, slowly and methodically before crashing down dramatically and chaotically at the end as the singer pines for the old days and better times with friends. The longest track on the LP, “Emergency Route” is also the final track and couldn’t have been placed any better on this fourteen song masterpiece. It too, combines all of the best attributes, with stellar musicianship (Adam Vandivier, lays down some sick, unorthodox drum beats before exploding to the more traditional, brutal punk tempo about a minute in) and creative and evocative lyrics (I can’t seem to shake this ringing in my ears, softly/constantly humming back to me every show that I’ve been to/and I wouldn’t trade it all for a kingdom; a 401k/we’ll get there someday). More importantly though, it ends on a positive note which is a fitting metaphor for this fantastic fivesome. Almost heralding in this new, more confident era, is a haunting choir delicately singing in the background behind the lead vocals, making this track stand out above the rest for it’s savviness alone. It’s location at the end of the album leaves us, the listeners, with the highest of expectations going forward. If I’ve learned anything about these boys though, it’s that they never fail to not only meet, but exceed expectations!