American Steel Discography Week: Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts
The (to date) final American Steel release, Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts, is a far cry from the rugged and aggressive punk sound of the band’s debut. This time around, they thoroughly embrace a more pop-oriented style of songwriting that is based around offering up some infectious choruses and danceable rhythms.
Don’t believe me? Well then, look no further than the album’s opening track, “Emergency House Party,” which kicks off with a very mid-2000s-style pop-punk riff and eventually launches into the chorus, where Rory Henderson sings, “We only need a song to dance to/We only need a chorus to sing along to,” making it feel almost like a mission statement of sorts for what the band wants to accomplish with this record.
Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts is far and away the “shiniest” or cleanest-sounding American Steel album, and the improved production quality allows the band to craft more dynamic and textured songs than anything they’d done previously. In other words, they really put that Fat Wreck money to good use. The album features an influx of gang vocals and chanting, as well as cool voice and guitar effects, although sometimes these additions “work” better than others. Either way, the end result is that the band’s fifth release is also their most creative. And while it may be a far cry from the angry punks that released American Steel 11 years earlier, in many ways, the band is now able to offer a lot more to the listener in terms of songwriting and substance.
For instance, take the second track, “Tear the Place Apart,” which can easily be identified by its dance-y bass line and catchy chorus (with gang vocals!) that tells listeners to “get your ass up on your feet.” Much of the album follows a similar pattern, with a heavy focus on driving rhythms that will instinctively make listeners tape their feet (unless they’re really committed to being no fun, I guess).
Everything from the “woah-ohs” in “Safe and Sound” to the surf rock vibes of “Your Ass Ain’t Laughing Now” (complete with Beach Boys-esque harmonies) showcase the band’s pop sensibilities and improved capacity as songwriters. Perhaps most interestingly, what appears to happen when you mix pop music into the American Steel sound is that it just comes out sounding like Alkaline Trio a lot of the time; this comparison is most evident than on the song “The Blood Gets Everywhere” (I mean, just look at that title).
But I think the band’s growth is most evident on the last track, “Meals & Entertainment,” which is probably the most “out there” American Steel song in their whole discography. With its dreamy pop sound that could have been ripped straight out of the 1950s, strong melody, and crooning falsetto harmonies, this lyrically sparse album closer about the financial difficulties that come with being a professional and principled punk rocker is easily one of the more (if not the most) emotionally expressive songs American Steel has ever composed. It’s also a personal favorite, if you’re interested.
Don’t get me wrong, I love American Steel’s earlier material as much as anything they’ve done, but it’s also great to see a group grow and evolve into one that is willing to continue developing and releasing interesting music that challenges the listener, as well as the band.
Now, we just have to get on these guys to finally come out with a sixth album. It’s been four years – what are they waiting for!?
7 Notes/ Hide
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