Red Collar - Pilgrim (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Red Collar

Pilgrim (2009)


This new full-length from Red Collar, Pilgrim is really hard to pin down. It was described to me as Fugazi meets the Hold Steady, a strange pairing if there ever was one. Listening to it though, it's obvious why those comparisons were made. The super-angular guitar parts in a lot of the songs are straight out of the Fugazi playbook, and some of the more grandiose moments here certainly wouldn't sound odd with Craig Finn crooning over them. Pilgrim is quite honestly one of the most original records that have crossed these ears in quite a while.

The Fugazi influence really shines on both "Hands Up" and "Rust Belt Heart," the guitar work having the same sort of focused noodling one would find in many of that band's songs. "Stay" and "Catch A Ride" possess the same quality to a lesser extent, but the slightly more subdued manner in which Red Collar execute these parts actually enhance the songs, instead of leaving them feeling cold and somewhat devoid of emotion.

Meanwhile, the freewheeling nature of a lot of these tracks lend themselves to the notion that the Hold Steady were any sort of analog for Red Collar. The incredibly catchy "Used Guitars," with those infectious group vocals in the chorus, as well as the captivating performance by vocalist Jason Kutchma, are both highlights, as are the title track and the heavily acoustic, totally awesome "Tonight"; the electronic tinges and reverbed vocals mesh surprisingly well inside the song's minimal shell.

Things become slightly more brooding on "Tools," as the instrumentation and vocals definitely feel far darker than anything else here. The driving, jagged guitars coupled with light keyboards give the song a real Murder by Death feel, and that's certainly far from a bad thing. The only other slight example of this dynamic from Red Collar is in "The Astronaut," though it's largely in the vocals; the guitars crunch along and the drums pound with calculated ferocity, leaving before it wears out its welcome.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Pilgrim's opener, "The Commuter." Appropriately enough, the song's intro is minimal and atmospheric, with sounds of vehicles whizzing by liberally thrown in. The song has a compelling buildup and a satisfying payoff replete with loud guitars and strong vocals from Kutchma. Those group shouts of "we been workin' overtime" are definitely appreciated, too. When listening to a record from a new band, it's pretty much essential that the opening track has to be good, and "The Commuter" delivers big time.

As hard as it has become to forge an original sound in any scene these days, Red Collar have done a nice job in carving out a new niche with Pilgrim. It's fresh, exciting and compelling, and I look forward to hearing more from this band.