Scanning the mainstream punk rock scene, groups seem to put a lot of effort into their appearance. Good Charlotte and the Used cake their sound in eyeliner and hair-dye. On the other hand, acts like Simple Plan offer up a scruffy cleanliness that is non-threatening and almost wholesome. Thus, its somewhat refreshing that upon flipping through the booklet in Bars’ debut album, there isn’t one single picture of the band to be found. If you hit their website, you won’t find a single photo of them there either. Instead, the pictures in their booklet are a series of close-ups of a Les Paul electric guitar. In case it hasn’t been made any more obvious, for Bars, the music is their first and only priority.
A supergroup of sorts, Bars in made up of members of Give Up The Ghost, the Hope Conspiracy and Suicide File. Their ferocious debut is a half-hour of no frills, cranked up punk rock that carefully blends the crude punk rock of Black Flag with monstrous arena rock styled riffs. But at the center of this frenzied punk rock display is the band’s leader and not-so-secret weapon Kevin Baker. Armed with a voice that sounds like he’s been chewing on bucketfuls of glass, as well as a disarmingly sincere delivery, Baker guides this sonic attack with confidence and nerve.
As a testament to their immediacy, the album opener “Bright Lights For Demise” begins with the sound of a guitar being plugged in before the band launches into their street-level punk rock. However, There are subtle songwriting touches that keep this from being a simple three-chord march. The chorus shifts into a poppier tempo with some well-placed backing vocals, and whoever is playing lead guitar lets go in the latter end of the track with some surprisingly tasteful shredding. Other tracks like “Up To Neck” have some nice starts and stops, while “Toecutter” slows down in the chorus to take a breather before turning it up a notch again for verse.
On the production end of things the band and producer Jim Siegel keep things relatively simple, yet intense. The vocals thankfully aren’t pushed to the fore but instead rub shoulders with filth covered guitars, steady drums and punchy bass. Though the band brings an amazing performance to the record, by the mid-point things begin to start sounding the same and the songs start to blur into one another. Wisely, the band ends the disc on two decidedly slower tracks, the blues soaked “Too Far Down” and the appropriately titled album closer “This Is It”. Unfortunately, the longer runtime allows the lead guitar riffs to linger too long, pushing the song more towards Velvet Revolver territory than the band was probably anticipating. But by this point, this is forgivable given the brisk ride the rest of the disc provides.
The focus of the disc however, always remains on Kevin Baker. His performance is breathless, and lends these songs an extra dose of vitality that only charges them up that much more. He is central to these songs and he is more than up to the challenge. His clear, raw delivery allows him to sing lyrics like “I’m cutting wrists cuz it’s all I got to give, / I’m cutting throats cuz it’s all I got to live, / I’m cutting out cuz I’m angry at the sun” without batting an eye. The Introduction has been made, and Bars are the real deal.
// Notes from the Road
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