Red Animal War took me completely by surprise. A friend recommended them as a great math-rock band, so I visited their website. What did I hear? A little song called Backbreaker, a contribution to one of the Emo Diaries. It did little for me. Fast forward a month, and I find it in my music folder. That day in my English class we were reading a segment of The Red Badge of Courage, and I had noticed from where the band got their name. I decided to give "Backbreaker" a listen. This time, perhaps because I was far older and infinitely more mature than one month before, I was taken aback. How had I ignored this song? How did this nugget of math-rock gold slipped my musical sieve? At this point I didn't care, as I rushed headlong to my CD store to buy something, anything by this band. To my dismay I found nothing, as the case usually is. One quick visit to CDNow.com, and I was eagerly awaiting Black Phantom Crusade's delivery.
When the CD came in the mail, I popped it in immediately, and once again, was not impressed. The first track sounded flat, uninspired, boring. Fast forward a few days, and I was hooked.
The opening track, "Still", turned out to be a mellow masterpiece. Track two, "When Fat Pigs Fly", still does little for me. The third track, "Straight Lines for Construction Workers", is a welcomed diversion from the rest of the CD; a soft number laden with saxophones lamenting a construction worker's death. "Making Zealots" is an infuriating song; what could be great music is completely negated by RAW attempting to be unique. The main chord progression seems normal at first, but later it just bothers the hell out of me that the band took it a few notes too far. The flow is completely disrupted. RAW is plagued throughout their CD by this drive to be unique. They seem terrified by the prospect of being branded as "nothing special." "When I Get the Feeling Back in My Hands" makes up for any mistakes committed in "Making Zealots." A bouncing hook paves the way for a dramatic shout-along chorus. "Blame the Christians, blame the Muslims, blame the Jews!" Indeed.
Track six is where this CD really starts to shine. "The Day after Yesterday" is sung by backup vocalist and guitarist Matt Pittman. It's a chill offering worthy of note. Track seven, "Mouse", is one of the best songs I have ever, note that, EVER heard. The opening chords are spiked with a whooshing guitar noise that, the first time I heard the song, made me restart it a few times just to hear the beginning again. Jeff Wilganoski established his talent in the first six tracks, but in "Mouse", he really shows why he is one of the great drummers of today. Relentless percussion relying heavily on toms creates a style recognizable from miles away. The song is complimented by some of Wilson's best vocals, and is adorned with a spoken-word segment. Altogether, "Mouse" is an incredibly convincing song.
"And So It Begins with Bombs" starts soft and explodes later on, culminating in a shout-along chorus that begs you to join them. "Gattaca" is RAW's attempt at a standard punk song, and they prove that they can toss aside their math-rock tendencies to create a pop-punk gem. Track ten, "Photel California", is a nice two minute instrumental, but the two final tracks top off the record in incredible style.
"Jambalaya" joins "Mouse" as one of the best songs I've heard in the last few years. An explosive beginning followed by a verse of almost rapped lyrics sets your body in motion. Plucked harmonics start the instrumental verse, a spoken-word segment laying softly over the music. "I was a knife, I was a knife, tonight!" The song explodes once again. A short breakdown later, and bam, yet another explosion. Following immediately is a cheery little ditty called "Right Now, Today, I Don't Believe in Hell." "With nicotine nails, and coke-red eyes, she said to me, believe you me, I don't wanna die." The depressing mood continues throughout most of the rest of the song, until it takes an upward turn: "You think this dance is over, think again, this is war, these are mines, and yes those are your friends." The song breaks into a bass-driven beat which slows into oblivion, and the album ends. Wow.
Red Animal War creates math-driven rock with insightful lyrics and faultless production. Though parallels to Jawbox will inevitably be made, RAW creates a sound unique enough to call their own. The album relies heavily on relentless guitars and drums, skilled bass, and of course, Justin Wilson's undeniably great lyrics and vocals. Fans of Jawbox, Hot Water Music, or Fugazi should definitely check out Red Animal War.
Vocals - 8.4
Instrumentation - 8.4
Production - 9.0
Cover Art - 7.5
Overall Score (not an average): 8.9