There's just something so completely charming about Sacramento rockers, Die Trying. Maybe it has something to do with their goal to bring rock music back to its "three chords and the truth" roots. Or maybe I'm feeling oddly close to the band after spending the past two days working the merchandise booth at a rock show filled to bursting point with an audience of jerks who think it's just so cool to throw water on the band. Because, after that, anything that comes close to reminding me what rock music is really all about is going to win me over. The cool thing about these guys is that they don't want to change the face of rock music. They don't want to shout about the sorry state of the industry. They just want to have fun. Or, well, die trying.
"We're not trying to split the atom, we're just a rock and roll band that loves what we do", says Die Trying vocalist, Jassen. It's this dedication to making music rather than actively seeking success that helped the band find major label representation. While the old story of sending out demos to record companies continues to be so prevalent among young, energetic bands desperate for corporate backing, Die Trying managed to get signed thanks to a commitment to playing, rehearsing, improving at songwriting, and finding their way on to any stage, anywhere (even if they weren't booked). A bit of good ol' hard work paid off for these boys when, after a gig in Modesto, Island Records wished to sign them on the spot. Guys who try really, really hard actually getting a record deal? I like to think of it as good karma.
The band's first record, Die Trying, is a frenetic 40 minutes covering just about every base on the rock'n'roll diamond. From the outset, it's obvious these guys are having a good time. Though the album is clearly for rock fans, there's something very fuzzy-pop about these songs, as well -- this is certainly not a bad thing, managing, instead, to give the songs recognizable melody, making them simultaneously danceable and head-bang worthy. Lyrically, the guys manage to build affecting stories of loss, lust, and reproach that outdo many of their rock contemporaries by seeming to stem from actual experience rather than a feigned sense of detachment. Maybe I'm being overly cynical, but there's just something so gorgeous about a rock band untainted by the spoils of fame (I mean, is anyone really buying the sad and sorry Meteora Linkin Park after the gajillion-selling first album?).
The first single, "Oxygen's Gone", effectively explores this mixture of rock and pop styles with a killer chorus splitting a couple of haunting verses about the death of a loved one. Certainly nothing revolutionary in the subject matter, but Die Trying genuinely have a handle on the message they're attempting to get across, namely that they don't give a shit if you've heard it all before -- they love doing it their own way, so enjoy it or go listen to something else. It's hard, though, not to like this song, with its heavenly guitar work and inescapable energy. And the pop edge really shines through, evoking latter-day Goo Goo Dolls and those kings of danceable rock, Everclear.
The kicks keep coming with the title song, which proves these guys have long studied their rock roots all the way back to the days of big hair and eyeliner. Then there's the ultra-cool "Turn Up the Radio", which can't decide if it wants to be a rock anthem or pop's latest summertime theme, and, just to be cute, there's "Dirty, Dirty", which gorgeously mirrors the Waitresses' classic, "I Know What Boys Like", while adding a touch of Len's "Steal My Sunshine" for no good reason except to make the whole thing even more fun.
Die Trying's debut is quite simply an album for rock fans by rock fans. It's not all fun and games, with a few sad tracks reminding us the band has a sensitive side, but for the most part it's just one long party that you wish would never end.