The Redwalls, De Nova

The Redwalls, De Nova

Okay, I’ll admit that it’s a little weird listening to the Redwalls’ most recent full-length, De Nova. I still can’t entirely get used to bands that do that whole “retro” thing, seemingly aping the past from the tone settings on their amps all the way to the ragged mops on their heads — it often comes a little too close to “tribute band” idolatry, a la the Marky-Mark flick Rock Star, for comfort. A part of me wants to smack these kids in the head and tell ’em to get their skinny asses out of their hipster lofts, quit trampling on the laurels of the honest musicians who did all the hard work way back when, and actually create something new, for God’s sake.

Luckily, going by De Nova, the Redwalls don’t need my advice. They have created something new…kind of. While everything I’ve heard previously from the band has bored me to tears, causing me to groan and smack the right-arrow button on the iPod while muttering “not another goddamn Strokes…” under my breath, with De Nova they’ve managed to distance themselves from the pack of retro-wannabes and craft an album that’s simultaneously new and old. This is “retro”-sounding, yeah, but it’s not so much that it sounds like bands like the Beatles, the Creation, the Small Faces, and the Rolling Stones, but that it sounds like this band could have been one of those bands.

Which makes sense in a twisted way, seeing as bandmates Logan Baren (vocals/guitar), Justin Baren (bass), and Andrew Langer (guitar) actually got their start as a British Invasion cover band (their original drummer quit to go to college and was replaced in 2003 by Ben Greeno). They’ve had the classic-rock schtick down for quite a while now, so it only seems fitting that they took the step upwards to becoming a “real” band. Sure, there’s still plenty of hero-worship lurking in the background, but with songs like these, who cares? The Redwalls have taken their emulation of sounds past to the point where they’ve made it their own.

They can roar and stomp like the Stones (the horn-filled, Black Crowes-esque “Robinson Crusoe”), rock like the Beatles did back in their Hamburg days (the bluesy, grimy “It’s Alright”), and even blast off to space, Hendrix/Secret Machines-style (the swirling, fuzz-thick guitars of “Back Together”), and through it all, they sound like an honest-to-God band, not just some agglomeration of influences. They pump “Falling Down,” an out-and-out jab at the FCC and so-called “obscenity” witch hunts, with so much vitriol that it balances out the sugary-sweet harmonies — you can practically hear the sneer on Baren’s lips — and then kidnap and ably utilize the melody of “Brown Eyed Girl” for “Love Her,” a nice throwback to the days when “rock” and “love song” weren’t mutually exclusive. One of the album’s absolute highlights, “Thank You,” is an astoundingly sincere affirmation of love and trust so heartfelt it makes me blush and sends a goofy smile creeping across my face (it’s also oddly reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” but that may just be me). “Build A Bridge” is similarly warm, an organ-heavy bit of gospel-rock with handclaps and a cheery tent revival message of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, the album falters a bit in the middle. It’s pretty front-loaded with good stuff, but when the band gets to the dreary prettiness of “Hung Up On The Way I’m Feeling,” the momentum drains out of the sound and doesn’t truly pick back up ’til “Back Together” soars in. At the same time, though, the “slow” section of the disc also includes “Front Page,” probably the most complex, intricate track here — it starts with ominous sirens, helicopter sounds, and news clips on Gaza, and mutates into a strange, spooky little anti-pop anthem with strings and sharp-edged Joe Strummer guitars, proof that the Redwalls boys do know more about their musical history than just the ’50s and ’60s. Then there’s “Glory Of War,” a Dylanesque, bitterly melancholy folk song about the marketing of the military machine, and the closer, “Rock & Roll,” which serves both as a mission statement for the band and a reminder of where their heads are at, both right now and in the future.

Taken as a whole, De Nova‘s no poseur, copycat affair, but one of the few recent examples of a band fully digesting its heroes and coming back with something that owes those folks a debt of gratitude but can still stand on its own two feet. If only more of the Redwalls’ compatriots could do the same.

(Capitol Records --; The Redwalls --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Saturday, October 1st, 2005. Filed under Reviews.

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