In 2001 Garrison released their third record, Be a Criminal, and nowhere near enough people noticed. On this record the Boston quartet fuse inspiring melodic themes, crushing guitar riffs, and dynamic drumming with thought-provoking lyrics. J. Robbins (of Jawbox/Burning Airlines) ably mans the 24-track, and the group has never sounded better. Guitars roar, cymbals splash. Intricate bass lines rest comfortably in the mix.
Lyrically, Be a Criminal explores the darker side of human behavior. Titles like "Recognize an Opportunity," "Cover the Tracks With Cash," and "Catch Your Breath and Have a Cigarette" mask lyrical content. They strengthen lyrical threads that pop up throughout the album. When read in consecutive order, they serve as a checklist for prospective criminals... a terse reminder of the ease with which crimes can be committed.
The group tends to offset catchy melodies and sugary harmonies with jarringly dark lyrical imagery. As clich√©d as it may seem, these guys actually pull it off. Garrison let their dark lines resonate in a societal context. "Dump the Body," for example, is full of menacing urban mantras. Simple phrases like "I'm going to get some blood on my hands" and "I could point a finger but I'd rather point a gun" cynically symbolize the prevalent mindset of post-modern Americans.
The album's closer, "Accept What You've Done, Accept Who You Are" addresses the fine lines that divide stagnant monocultures. It is a poetic call to action, and arguably the lyrical apex of the record. The record's opener, "Recognize an Opportunity," begins with the repeated phrase "weigh anchor, draw the lines" set to an infectiously rocking musical backdrop. The listener gets the impression that said lines are drawn carelessly‚?¶ and forcefully. This last track, however, is a final condemnation of the mental and legal injustices that are addressed throughout the record, as well as a rejection of those lines that were so quickly drawn at the beginning of the album.
The music emphasizes this progression. The last track is the record's slowest number, with lots of ringing arpeggios and droning open strings. The lyrics of its second verse are particularly solid, so I'll include them here.
Musically, these guys are just unbelievable‚?¶ Each track is a subtle reinvention of the group's sound. They are definitely influenced by Dag Nasty, Farside, Quicksand, and The Pixies, but they still manage to maintain a very unique musical identity. Their music is marginally similar to Rival Schools, but the songwriting is more developed, and the music has more drive. The complexity of the lyrics and the intensity of the music make this record a gem even after repeat listens.
"The lines they fit us in are criminal,
Restrictive, bored and without grace
A passed on culture less than livable
With all the sights but not the taste.
Nowadays seems only surgery can make you come out clean."
It is difficult to select the finest moments on this record. The album's opener is a scorcher. "Know the Locale" is infused with a thick blues riff, cascading modal harmonies, and excellent drumming. "Focus, Focus, Focus" is a complicated, upbeat number, with some great lyrics. Each song is composed of several very different parts. Each part still manages to fit perfectly into the rest of the song. Every note seems to strengthen the album as a whole.
When the group slows down for "Commit, Commit, Commit," they remind me of their former label-mates, Elliott. The vocals sound a bit like Walter Schreifels crossed with that guy from The Get Up Kids. The whiny guy. I'm still deciding if that's a good thing‚?¶ This track may very well be the album's weakest moment, but it is still not a poor song. The record definitely needs the break in pace this track provides, but their execution isn't quite what I'd hoped for. There are some great harmonies, and some well-phrased lyrics, but the track seems to drag on for a bit too long. Like this review, I guess.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who is into complex, melodic punk rock with strong lyrics and excellent musicianship. I bought this record on a whim the day it came out, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Plus, the second song on the record has a very, very badass whistling solo. Anyways, check them out. It may be in your best interests to pick this record up.