[22 July 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
New Jersey’s Roadside Graves have based their new record on S.E. Hinton’s novel, The Outsiders—the one book you actually read in junior high, remember? We Can Take Care of Ourselves is not some concept record that seeks to follow the book’s plot, though. Instead, it’s a record that adroitly and beautifully captures the feel of the book. It’s an album full of youthful energy and grizzled weariness, of fragile cracks and volatile bursts. Opener “Outside” starts the record with a fleeting freedom in its spacious sway and layered vocals, even as the guitar speeds along underneath, hinting at tension to come, one that erupts in the expansive crash of “Double Feature”. When the band isn’t pulsing with shiny-eyed life, on the E Street rocking of “Hank Williams” or the moody tangles of “Tuff Hair”, they out-heartbreak Ryan Adams on the intense balladry of songs like “Waiting” and album standout “Teenagers Are Tired”. Taken as a whole, Roadside Graves have given us an expansive and wonderful American sound on their new record. It is country music writ large, rock music cut free of tight structures. These songs build so confidently they feel no need to fully erupt. Instead the entire album is a constant swell of want and pain, of struggling not for catharsis but to understand the jittery feeling in your gut. “If you’re looking for me you better look outside,” the boys sing to start the record, and they’re right, because it’s unlikely there are walls strong enough to hold their sound and feeling in. These guys have been impressive for a few albums now, but We Can Take Care of Ourselves is their definitive statement, and a record I bet S.E. Hinton would enjoy the hell out of.