I'm not usually a fan of digital-only releases, especially singles, preferring the tactile sensation of having a record on the player and liner notes in my hands. That said, having casually enjoyed Elway's previous incarnation, 10-4 Eleanor, I was curious enough to purchase the Passing Days release to see if and how the band might have progressed now signed to Red Scare, a label where bands seem to flourish and grow.
The band, or at least their singer Tim Browne, is clearly a fan Chris McCaughan of the Lawrence Arms, as Browne's vocal delivery often brings McCaughan to mind–which, for me, is always welcomed. Another similarity they share with the Lawrence Arms are lyrics that possess poetic and often detailed, rich imagery that engages the listener and has a storytelling quality without losing its personal focus. These, however, are just points of reference, with Elway being much more than a Lawrence Arms ripoff.
Browne's voice possesses harsher edges to it, giving Elway's songs a grittier edge in every song and a more fluid transition between its melodic and gruff dynamics than the Lawrence Arms are capable of. It gives variety to the songs, ensuring they don't become monotonous or dull. It's a dynamism that gives Elway's songs depth and replay value.
The title track of this digital release for Red Scare sets the tone for the two following tracks: mid-paced with upbeat flourishes of Midwest-esque punk. "Passing Days" does well to generate a sense of energy without the need for a breakneck pace, with the guitar hooks and rhythm section achieving something similar to labelmates the Menzingers but in a slightly more controlled manner. It gives a sense of purpose that a lot of mid-tempo punk often lacks. The track sucks you in, with its lyrics showcasing their strong songwriting with great lines–"Smoking cigars settle in an ashtray / in a dingy bar where romances are born / the sound of Denver seeping from the jukebox / but no country road could ever take us home."
The first of two accompanying B-sides are "Patrick's Scarf Is So Douche", which starts a little measured before breaking loose into a great guitar line that conjures thoughts of driving along a stretching highway escaping the shitty day-to-day world. The song is about the redeeming power of music–to uplift, support or provide escape when things aren't going right. It's an almost universal experience when each of us having a time when the songs we love have helped us out in some way. The song's propulsive drumming–along with its great breakout guitar hook–tap into that spirit. Add in some shout/group vocals and you're in punk rock heaven–a song to loudly sing along to that means something we all can relate to, to pick you up when you're down. Perfect.
The other B-side, "Wolf Shirt" slows things down a little. The song, like many others before it, explores themes of religion, God and belief. The song doesn't come across preachy–rather, it's a call to arms, to throw off the guilt, shame and submission growing up in a religious lifestyle can bring with it. "Don't ever be afraid / no one can tell us who we are / not brothers, not men, not gods / our bodies are ours and ours alone." Musically, the tune sits in a nice riff/groove for the first two-thirds before a quiet change-up that builds in an instrumental that keeps things interesting to finish on.
The three songs on Passing Days do well in introducing and showcasing the different aspects to Elway as a band–from introspective and lovelorn to upbeat and inspiring, personal and socially aware in their content. I'm glad I took the chance on the digital release as Passing Days is a great warm-up for their full-length, Delusions, due out in May.