The obvious and all-too-easy play on words in the title of Tom Gabel’s first solo EP, Heart Burns, is an unfortunate omen for the disc. Stepping out of his role as lead singer of Against Me!, Gabel gives us seven tracks that sound very much like songs his band cast off. Once again Gabel fills his tracks with fifty-cent words—at one point, he sings “We are ennobled by our suffering”—but unlike the past, these lyrical gambles sound clunky and forced, sapping songs like “Cowards Sing at Night” and “Conceptual Paths” of their energy as he wanders away from already flimsy vocal melodies.
Even “Random Hearts” and “Amputations”, the best offerings here, don’t quite work. Both are sanded down by dull looped drums that make the tracks sound overproduced instead of immediate. There was a time when Gabel was happy to let his voice and guitar speak for themselves, and its too bad he doesn’t do that here. Because even though these tracks fall apart even at their simplest moments, the studio touches provided by Butch Vig and company sure don’t do them any favors, and really negate any personal touch Gabel was trying to put on this short record.
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