Monday, 11 June 2018

Album Review: For The Sake Of The Bit by Elway (by Emma Prew)

It’s been three years since Elway released their last album, the excellent Better Whenever – it was a CPRW top album of 2015 by the way. We saw the band live a year later at Fest, whilst the likes of Red City Radio and Propagandhi were playing at the same time, and it was a massive highlight of the whole festival for us. I for one, having not listened to their back catalogue in great depth before Fest, was completely blown away by their performance. Since then we’ve been eagerly awaiting more recorded material from the band. On April 27th our wishes were granted and the band released For The Sake Of The Bit on Red Scare Industries. With 8 songs on it, I’m not entirely sure if this is a generous EP or a short album (I’m opting for the latter) but who cares because Elway are back! And – spoiler alert – it’s pretty darn good.

The opening track is called Inches and it is a relatively mid-tempo song to ease us into the album. The guitars are big from the outset and Tim’s warm yet slightly gruff vocals will immediately have the listener hanging on his every word. As I said this isn’t a fast paced track as such but nor is it a slow plodder, it goes along at a perfect pace and brings us to the excellent middle section of the song. Tim sings ‘But if you can’t face the end, Then maybe you could start a band, But until then…’ and then we are treated to a gang vocal response of ‘Get fucked!’ Suddenly this song got a little more gritty and I love it. (According to an interview I read, the band are telling people who needlessly criticise bands online to ‘get fucked’ here.) There’s some great guitar work in this song too – a fine album opener all round. Inches is followed by a shorter, faster tune called Hold On. The drums are pounded that little bit harder from the start and the guitars feel more urgent – urgent yet super catchy that is. There’s more of that grittiness in this second track which is ever more present when the vocal kick in as Tim’s voice seems more intense and perhaps a little strained (not necessarily a bad thing). I must admit, the faster and rougher vocals do make it hard to figure out precisely what Tim is singing which is a shame because I really felt like I wanted to sing along. Thankfully the chorus, filled with equal parts bitterness and nostalgia, is a whole lot more singalongable than the verses – so much so that it sounds like the whole band is singing it: ‘Letting go is harder than it seems, I never needed sleep to fucking dream… Hold on, A part of me remembers when, All my friends weren’t so blasé, It seems like yesterday…’ Actually, although I’ve referred to that as the chorus, it’s actually only sung once and at the end of the song meaning that Hold On definitely goes out with a bang.

The third track on For The Sake Of The Bit is titled Crowded Conscience. Here Elway take their foot off of the accelerator (or the gas pedal if you’re American) a little for another more mid-tempo number. The volume is still amped up but it doesn’t feel as fast and furious as the previous song on the album. I think, assuming I am interpreting the lyrics correctly, that this is a love song of sorts about trying to make time for that special someone who has perhaps been a little neglected by you – and so clearing your conscience. This feels like both a feel-good and heart-felt track which is none more apparent than in the chorus. ‘Baby, we could drive all over the country, Or pretend that we could avoid the cities, I would just whisk you, Whoa, Oh (x7ish)…’ The song has that same sort of alt-rock Americana feel to it as something like The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound (album) but still sounds distinctly Elway and I love that. Following on from this love song comes Selfish Masochistic Psychic Trauma, a track that feels much darker – not least because of its title. The song’s intro is a little stripped back with a clean melodic guitar riff to lead us into the song but before too long those huge Elway guitars and drums are back. The opening lines set a somewhat sour tone – ‘To have lived is not enough, I have to talk about it in all these songs…’. Selfish Masochistic Psychic Trauma is about a particularly entitled individual who feels like the world revolves around them. The band’s bitterness really comes through in the song and has me feeling pretty resentful myself. I guess that’s the sign of a great songwriter!

The second half of the album sees the arrival of some fuzzy and distorted guitars. Eating Crow is the name of the fifth song on For The Sake Of The Bit and that opening riff will no doubt have your head nodding from the start. When the vocals come in after 30 seconds or so things are slowed down a little and there’s a great bit of call and response between Tim’s vocals and a more melodic guitar part. This song seems to be about what a disgrace we are as human beings most of the time whilst living in out own little bubbles and not really learning from our past mistakes. ‘If we don’t learn a goddamn thing then the history it just repeats.’ Tim also questions what we’ve done in our lives and to the world as a whole and if we’ve ‘gone too far’. The song is perhaps not as obviously venomous as the previous song on the album but Eating Crow sure packs its own punch too and the songwriting is masterful. Perfect Silence is the name of the next track and there is no hesitating with this one as the vocals come in after just a few seconds. The song has a fairly slow pace and almost melancholic sound. That said, it also has a great distinctly Midwest sort of sound that I can’t even describe properly in words but I know I love it when I hear it. I feel like it draws near to indie or alt-country and Americana but, no, this is still a punk band at heart. This also feels like a very honest song – I mean most Elway songs are but more so with this one – as Tim mentions mental health and acknowledges that he knows there is no hidden purpose in life. I particularly enjoyed the line ‘I carry happiness inside a balled up fist.’ . Perfect Silence tackles the daily struggles we face in life and offers up a positive thought to end on – ‘…There is no hidden worth, No purpose, No nothing, Well for what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s crazy to try.’.

Things take a little bit of a different route for the penultimate song, Paper Guitars. There’s an echoey and almost dream-like start with the lead guitar sounding distant, before a second guitar, bass and drums kick in. However, when the vocals come in we’re back to classic Elway again and the pounding drums and bass carry us through to another hugely singalongable chorus – complete with plenty of whoa-ohs. ‘Go on and swim, Whoa-oh, As far as you can, Whoa-oh, Go on and swim, Whoa-oh, And never return again, Whoa-oh whoa-oh-oh.’ Damn, I’m just thinking about how much I want to see Elway live again to be able sing along with the band (At the time of writing this they are on tour with Dead To Me in the US but it is unlikely they’ll be over to UK anytime soon, if ever.) Paper Guitars features a soft instrumental breakdown that is accompanied by a voice recording. To be honest it isn’t all too clear what the recording is about but I think it might be someone talking on the phone. I was mostly focussed on the guitar shredding that was going on anyway! This carries us into the last song on For The Sake Of The Bit which is titled Nobody Goes Into Meteorology For The Sunny Days – a lovely humourous yet cynical title if ever there was one. There’s a sombre and thoughtful tone set here which seems like an apt way to play out the record really. This song is probably the slowest of the album but the pace does pick up nicely towards and beyond the chorus – ‘Go ahead dude, no one is listening… I’d like to thank my heroes for giving me a voice, And no thank you to the bastards who only make white noise.’  An instrumental section that follows gives a sense of something building – because it is. Building to a goodbye. As Tim musters up some emotional cries of ‘So here’s a goodbye, Here’s a goodbye.’, there are hints of it being screamed back to him in the background. Then we soon find ourselves at a distorted fade out that ends the album. That’s it, over in no time. At only 25 minutes in length, you may as well listen to the whole thing through again!

I think Elway may well have released one of the best singalong gruff punk albums of 2018. Check out For The Sake Of The Bit yourself and see if you agree with me.

You can stream and download For The Sake Of The Bit on Bandcamp and like Elway on Facebook.

This review was written by Emma Prew.

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