Drag the River - Bad at Breaking Up (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Drag the River

Bad at Breaking Up (2009)

Suburban Home

It appeared that alt-country superstars Drag the River were done shortly before the release of their last proper studio effort, You Can't Live This Way. Instead, the indefinite hiatus unexpectedly morphed into sporadic shows -- some with just Jon Snodgrass and Chad Price, others with a full band, and all along a whole "fuck it, why not?" attitude toward the entire operation. These guys are indeed Bad at Breaking Up, and we're all the beneficiaries; this record collects 20 various rarities, split songs, and 7" tracks that are either hard to find or completely out of print, and although 20 tracks is a lot for any release, there's far more hits than misses to be found in this collection.

Fans of Suburban Home's Under the Influence 7" series will immediately recognize the first two tracks here, "Having a Party" and "Jeff Black Song," as being from Drag the River's contribution to that series. Both songs feature a balanced mix of electric and acoustic guitar, and Jon and Chad taking turns singing lead on "Having a Party" is a rare, enjoyable treat. Another definite highlight is the five-plus minute "I Remember Now," a slowly-paced ballad carried by a nice combination of weeping steel guitar, minimal percussion and Chad's vulnerable vocals. An alternate version of "Caleb's Grave" also appears here, and it's a moodier, less polished rendition than the one that ended up on You Can't Live This Way. Few bands can match Drag the River's ability to portray pure, unadulterated somberness, and songs like "Jake Song Too" and "This Star" show the guys do more with less than most bands would dare to attempt, and in the most melancholic way possible.

If there's one real fault with Bad at Breaking Up, it's that many of the slower, minimally instrumented songs tend to run together -- at one point there's about eight of them in a row -- but if there's a silver lining to that, it's that it only augments the pure awesomeness of the more upbeat tracks here when they do occasionally show up. The vocal pattern of "Dirty Lips" is so, so catchy, the foot stompin' percussion and solidly placed backup vocals give "Crawling" a lot of life and the straight-up honky-tonk style of "Trainwreck" is loads of fun. And just so I'm not ignoring Jon Snodgrass here, his turn in the raw, driving "Sea Miner" is solid.

Given the inconsistencies in production quality from song to song, no one will confuse Bad at Breaking Up with a proper, centrally focused studio record. But the lack of cohesion here is basically a moot point, largely in part because most of the songs are so fucking good. Highly recommended for listeners old and new alike.