Nothington starts out Roads, Bridges and Ruins with "A Mistake," picking up right where All In left them: music at a breakneck speed, melancholy lyrics screamed out by singer Jay Northington and propped up by guitarist Chris Matulich and bassist Tony Texeira's harmonies. In case you had thought maybe they had softened up, they haven't. "If You Say So" is a gruff love song to a relationship that sounds like it's on its way out -- it's got the perfect hook with the chorus of "It's nights like these I know I'm on my own."
Chris Matulich first appears on lead vocals halfway through. "Not Looking Down" could be a One Man Army B-side and I think that's fucking awesome. There's that great feeling of reaching your mid-20s and not knowing what the hell is going on and he captures it perfectly in his songs here. There's some razor-sharp lyrics in this song that you're going to have to hear to believe. "Meant to Lose" is another track fronted by Chris that they've been playing live for nearly a year now and it sounds a lot better here on record. Chris's voice sounds great here. His lyrics have also stepped it up a lot this time around, making it feel less like skinned-knee rock and more punk rock.
The band actually takes it a bit slower for a bit of the album. Tracks like "Stop Screaming" slow the tempo down but really raise the intensity in the music. It's an urgent and melancholy ballad pleading for understanding from someone. "Best for Me" has a similar feel. Jay's had a few rough times since recording All In and you can hear it here. He's pissed but he's obviously trying to convince himself and everyone else that he's doing just fine.
One of the many gems of this album is "The Ocean." It starts out full-tilt, all guns blazing. Immediately drops into some rad riffing and and vocal interplay between Northington, Texiera and Matulich. It could just be me but the second this song reached its epic climax I felt a punch to the gut that put me back in the Bay Area -- it somehow captures it perfectly. I love the "whoa-oh"s in the middle of the song that are so perfectly placed to up the ante. And they're combined with some of the most introspective lyrics on the album: "So now you've moved on. Well, I'm still here. You've grown up by now, and I remain queer. We're so cold. Our hearts so dearly need to be sewn. We both are so cold. Lose our decisions to instinct alone. The last ones, the last ones to move on. I love the ocean, 'cause only there do my fears seem small." It's a great song that really sums up the dynamic feeling of the album.
"Sleep Tight" closes the album, opening with some sweet southern riffing and a steady drumbeat underneath nearly spoken vocals that gives it a bizarre resemblance to the closing track on Searching for a Former Clarity. The track builds up over the first two minutes just to drop out into a fairly stripped-down mid-section with Northington's melancholic lyrics being half-spoken, half-sung. The backing vocals courtesy of bassist Tony Texeira and Matulich come in, filling out the song and carrying it for the rest of the track.
Roads, Bridges and Ruins does not fall prey to the common "sophomore slump" that many bands experience. Instead, it finds the band maturing musically and emotionally, drawing on the ups and downs of their lives and the world. The music is an impressive leap that won't leave old fans out in the dark; it's also quite comfortable. It's nice to see people who eat, breathe and bleed punk music make good in such a great way.