I don't know about you, but a lot of my friends don't share the same musical tastes as me. Now, I don't mean this in the sense of "Joe only listens to hardcore" or "Bob will only rock out to skatepunk," but I have a lot of friends that like classic rock, metal, hip-hop and even the latest scourge plaguing the local airwaves. Considering my involvement in the punk community, I get to hear a lot of bands and I can't think of one in recent memory that could appeal to so many, both "punk-related" and not, music enthusiasts like the Gaslight Anthem.
Sink or Swim, the New Jersey-based quartet's debut LP, is the type of record that most young bands wish they could create to launch their musical career. For a group of guys with such diverse backgrounds in styles like folk, blues, metal, hardcore and punk, the overall output is an album rich in melody, hooks and overall well-crafted song arrangements. In the album's opener, "Boomboxes and Dictionaries," we get a very bouncy number to kick things off, slightly reminiscent of Against Me!, complete with the standard "whoah-oh-oh" backing vocals. Fans of bands like Samiam and Lucero will appreciate tracks like "I Coulda Been a Contender," with its slowed-down intro, blasting into the up-tempo choruses, all the while perfectly showcasing singer/guitarist Brian Falon's smokey vocal style.
For as good as almost every song is on the record, the two standouts are easily "Wooderson" and the newly recorded "Drive" (which the original, and better, version appeared on the Go Kart Records compilation Go Kart vs. The Corporate Giant 4). Both tracks are simply the band at its best. Bassist Alex Levine and drummer Benny Horowitz cement a perfect rhythm section, maintaining a fast and smoothly rolling tempo, allowing lead guitarist Alex Rosamilia the stability to display his talent in playing more than your standard three chords.
Influences are one of the most poignant themes contained within several tracks on the album. The very Springsteen-ish "Ida Called You Woody, Joe," makes numerous references to the late, great songwriter and icon, Joe Strummer. Additionally, the closing track, "Red at Night" borrows the musical arrangement from Billy Bragg's "Way Over Yonder." In place of the normal Woody Guthrie words are instead lyrics written by Brian, and the song itself is performed solo and acoustically, with brief harmonica appearances solidifying the depth and overall feeling of the song.
If they continue in the direction that Sink or Swim points, it's obvious that the Gaslight Anthem's songwriting will only grow stronger, as many key elements, mainly arrangements and vocal harmonies, have already matured to the likes of a veteran band. This is one of those incredible albums that leaves you wanting more, knowing what the band is capable of, yet still introducing themselves with an amazing starting point. With constant touring, fueled by one of the best live shows I've witnessed in some time, it's safe to say that you will be hearing a lot more about this band in the future. Easily one of my favorite releases of 2007.
Stream Sink or Swim at the Gaslight Anthem Punknews profile
See an exclusive video of the Gaslight Anthem from the Punknews Video of the Week featuring three songs from Sink or Swim