The Casket Lottery are a band that doesn't garner nearly the attention in the indie rock world they deserve. They're not as flashy or as original as some of their counterparts, and often get left behind because of it. But don't be fooled, as this Kansas City band has been dilligently putting out solid material for the better part of the last six years, through lending tracks to countless compliations and putting out splits with the likes of Hot Water Music and Small Brown Bike. So in 1999, after a demo, EP release, and a 7", it was finally time for a full length album. The result: Choose Bronze
Before actually getting to the music, I'd like to draw attention to the liner notes. Now, for those that read my reviews, you'll know I don't ever mention the liner notes or artwork, but the art inside the liner notes really caught my eye with this CD. It's mostly old, Greek or Roman artwork, and very faded, but it fascinates me for some reason, at least enough to mention to all of you, so that's something to definitely check out. Enough procrastinating, on with the music!
The Casket Lottery provide a lot of contrast in their music, and each song offers something different at every turn. Equal parts gritty and melodic, straining and beautiful. They're obviously extremely tight and cohesive musicians, as everything flows very well together, with mathy drum beats, powerful bass, and guitar that can be clean and rhythmic, yet loud and crunching. Either sound can be put into a song without sounding forced or contrived, and it just builds off what came before it. Some people will argue this, but I see a lot of Jawbreaker influence here, and a lot of Elvis Costello influence as well. Their senses of power and melody are equally in tune, which allows them to be in overdrive, and very quietly restrained, without losing any of the songs' emphasis at all. The production on this CD adds a lot to it, but not in the glossy, overdone sort of way a lot of bands put on their records. It's produced in the way they gets the most out of each instrument; every drum fill is heard just like it should be, and every chord is strummed just as it was intended. On songs like "Trust Nolan," the contrast is most apparent, as the tempo and mood changes from very loud to smooth clean guitars and much more melodic vocals. After the interlude, the music goes back to its straining vocals, and loud, distorted guitars.
If it's not the intensity or the catchiness of the guitars, the solid basslines, or the amazing drumming that catch you with this album, certainly the vocals will. Luckily for everyone, there's just no spot on this album where the vocals relent in the slightest. Singer Nathan Elllis (ex-Coalesce) handles the vocals duties here, and at times he really brings to mind Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate. Channeling a certain level of emotion, but nothing over the top, he's able to create a real, earnest styling for his vocals and for his lyrics. Listen to the album's closer "Home Is.." for evidence in how his different inflections can completely and totally change the feel and mood of a song at different points in the duration. On par with the stellar vocals, which thankfully are not changed or gone over at all by the production, are the album's lyrics.
The emotion in the music is important, and is brought even more to life by the lyrics, which thankfully are not only an afterthought, as it seems a lot of bands leave them these days. As were Jawbreakers, and as were Sunny Day Real Estates, these lyrics are full of introspection, an emo staple. Emo as in Rites Of Spring, folks, which last time I checked, is not bad company to be associated with. In "Ocean:" "You can be anything here, you can be a dream / You can be the angel in the sea, if you're sick of being deep." I'm not going to put him on par with Blake of Jawbreaker, or Drew of Circle Takes The Square, who are my two favorite lyricists of the moment, but they are enjoyable, and they are well written. Another instance of this is in "Midway" " The red knife comes to mind / The one that bled nothing but rust." Simple, but eloquent, and perfectly fitting to the music.
This release perfectly set the stage for the other releases for the Casket Lottery that followed in the same vein but expanded well on what was set down here. This is a great effort for a band that's been around for years, and for a debut album, it looks even better in their favor.