It’s apt that a human ear graces the cover of Dad’s sophomore full-length I’ll Be the Tornado, as this is something that you will want to gather around and listen closely to. Consisting of the New Jesery-based duo of Scott Scharinger on vocals and guitar and John Bradley on drums, vocals and guitar, this follow-up to 2013’s Pretty Good EP rewards repeated listening.
Full of hooky ‘90s-style indie rock anthems, there appears to be a narrative thread that runs throughout the album, one of longing, one of wanting to belong. On “Chewing Ghosts”, there is even an ode to something literary: “You are a bunch of metaphors and similes (in some ways) / Tucked away in / Passive aggressive failed poetry.”
Fire also plays an important role on the disc. “I won’t fuel the fire that keeps you warm,” goes one lyric. Another is, “You sparked a fire seen from a mountaintop view / I’m on the ground, I’m still burning for you.” And there is at least one other reference, one that stimulates the title of the album: “I’ll be the tornado / That keeps you warm.” While this last line is on the silly side if taken literally, the band sells it with conviction. I’ll Be the Tornado is all about communication; or, rather, its breakdown. It’s no coincidence that the human ear that graces the album cover is covered by a tuff of hair, a metaphoric block to the message being conveyed.
There are musical touchstones: R.E.M. is referenced slyly in “The Romantic Ocean”: “(You are) / My Fibonnaci sequence / My golden ratio / My ‘Nightswimming’ piano piece / My white tulip covered in winter snow.” However, Dads doesn’t sound a lot like R.E.M., unless you consider the guitar jangle on such tracks as “Chewing Ghosts” to resemble that band’s early output. Instead, Dads take their cues slightly from folk rock – opener “Grand Edge, MI” starts out with an acoustic guitar strum before transfiguring into a full on aural assault – and emo. There’s a mid-fi feel to the record, as though this might have been something that could have easily been recorded in a basement somewhere. And Bradley, the main singer, comes across as soulful, his voice sometimes resembling that of Thom Yorke’s.
All of this congeals into something satisfyingly whole. “I need something new to obsess over,” is a line heard here, and your natural inclination would be to do so over this band. Songs such as “Sold Year / Transitions” have a vaguely Dismemberment Plan approach to them, just played with more punk urgency. There are nice tonal shifts in the music at times: “You Hold Back” starts off nice and gentle, as though the outfit is indeed holding something back, before turning into a blast of sonic squalor. The nearly seven and a half minute “Only You”, which closes out the album builds and builds in intensity, leaving listeners feeling winded and breathless.
I’ll Be the Tornado has death as an underpinning thematic, too. “Why are we so afraid to watch the dead when they finally die?” the band asks. “Is it because we see their opportunities pass them by? / There’s a family in a cemetery / There’s a family in a home / If I can’t even afford a grave for myself / Then why am I so afraid of dying alone?” The very next lines to the very next song then conveys, “Have the decency to bury me / If you’re going to kick me dead.” Later, “I won’t bury my dead / I choose to trample the bodies.”
So Dads are raging against the dying light, fighting against slights against the self, fighting against the slights others have made. Or, as these things go, “I tried to live a clean life, lean towards health and making you proud / But I became too focused on another lingering rain cloud.” There is a lesson about putting others before yourself that resonates. Basically, I’ll Be the Tornado is the stuff thesis papers were made of. There’s a lot to chew on lyrically. However, the music is just as forceful and magnificent. One of the greatest moments come in the combined “Sold Year / Transitions” which starts out punchy, but then turns into a mid-tempo jam with crushing guitar chords.
Because Bradley is actually the lead vocalist, his being the drummer puts him well into Phil Collins and Grant Hart territory. And it is amazing that this is the sound of just two guys, as the music does feel fleshed out and full bodied. I’ll Be the Tornado is a telling narrative about the storms of life, and its controlled squalor is astounding. Affecting and emotional, this LP definitely tugs at your emotions, but also gives the mind plenty to nibble on and digest. It’s a pleasing listen, in terms of its modulation of sound, and is just as satisfying the first time you hear it as it is the time after that, and so on. This is pretty intelligent stuff, but delivered with raw passion and conviction. Since Dads are a band that sticks to their dual approach – based on what I’ve read, the duo performs as a duo live, without added extra band members to flesh out their approach – it would be interesting to see how these songs hold up in a concert setting with that setup.
But, on record, this group is a confident bunch, even if they profess to not know all of the answers. For that, Dads are buzz worthy. I’ll Be the Tornado is an enrapturing album, and one that you simply must hear with your mind and your heart. This is music that will engage the senses, but no more so than the one associated with the body parts attached to both sides of your head. Listen now, and be all ears.