Okay, so this post is not about zombies. (But what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t write about your favorite band releasing a new record!?!)
A week ago, my favorite band, Rancid, released Let the Dominoes Fall, their first album in six years. I’ve been listening to it pretty constantly since last Tuesday, and am utterly delighted with it.
I’m a drummer, so I’ll start with the drums: It’s the band’s first album with new drummer Brendan Steinckert, whom I saw play on Rancid’s last tour. I thought he was a good drummer, but I didn’t know how he would be at composing original drum parts. A cynical part of me thought maybe Rancid just picked him because he had big arm muscles. (I once wrote an article for a music magazine in which I noted that drummers with the fastest hands tend to be either stick-thin or on the chubby side, but not bodybuilders/weightlifters. The article just made drummers want to kill me.) But any fears I harbored about how Steinckert might change the band’s sound were completely allayed by Let the Dominoes Fall. His drumming is talented and tasteful, and he knows when to pull-back on softer numbers. His tendency to put a crash cymbal on the 4 at the end of a bar (instead of the 1 of the next bar) puts me in mind of Brett Reed (Rancid’s previous drummer) and also the great Topper Headon.
The songs themselves are awesome, and seem a natural extension of the band’s previous record, Indestructible. The single “Last One to Die” is just delightful. It’s the kind of a song that will make you want to join a band. August Brown, writing in the L.A. Times called the song: “Rancid’s equivalent of a rap veteran’s boast track.” This description may be technically accurate, but it is hardly sufficient. The wonderful lyrics go beyond merely listing the band’s accomplishments; they make a case that it is the band’s dedication to authenticity and friendship that has allowed it to succeed over the years while so many others have failed.
Another highlight for me is the album’s most downtempo track, “Civilian Ways”, about a soldier trying to adjust to coming home from Iraq. It’s similar to “Arrested in Shanghai” (a song about a political prisoner, off of Indestructible) in that its effectiveness comes from Tim Armstrong’s “non-traditional” vocal style. The lyrics are all the more moving and authentic-feeling because they are NOT rendered with the saccharine choir-boy voice of an American Idol contestant, but with the garbled, slurred grit of the spittle-throated Armstrong. When Armstrong sings the song like he does, it is somehow “more real.” (It makes me think of a reading/lecture I heard Derek Walcott give around 2003 where he read this poem about a non-native English speaker who attempted to name his boat “In God We Trust” but instead wrote “In God We Troust.” According to Wolcott, the imperfect rendering “Troust” comported more meaning and emotion and insight than the correctly-spelled “Trust” could have. I think about that Walcott lecture whenever I think about Tim Armstrong’s singing-style.)
Anyhow, I just can’t say enough good things about this record. Here’s the video for “Last One to Die”: