About midway through Dads’ sophomore LP I’ll Be the Tornado, drummer/vocalist John Bradley yelps, “I want to be happy/ But I’m holding myself back.” As with most of his words here, they’re plainspoken, instantly quotable and derive power from context. For the New Brunswick duo, Dads is their life if not necessarily a living—to juxtapose the tremendous emotional investment and inherent triviality of such a lot, Bradley asks, “If I can’t even afford a grave for myself/ Then why am I so afraid of dying alone?”
As with most in their situation, Dads justify things by placing a lot of importance on the actions of those closest to them and their interactions with these people, i.e. “the scene.” This is a commonplace concern in punk rock, so it’s notable that Bradley wants to be “happy,” not “true” or “real,” since he finds the people who take it upon themselves to set those standards are often the most full of shit; or, as it’s memorably put later on during “You Hold Back”, “You can’t go against the grain with no natural wood.” This is a commonplace observation as well, but while most bands dealing in this subject matter assume the moral high ground, Bradley’s willing to acknowledge that he’s part of the problem and he’s going to take his brain and his issues with him wherever he goes. It’s just strange that he accuses himself of holding back here, because Dads put it all out there on this gut-spilling, bold and progressive album.
It’s a record of transitions in all aspects. Dads’ trajectory is obvious even before you hear a note of their music; compare the cover and album title from their 2012 effort American Radass (This is Important) to the wistful shot that graces last year’s Pretty Good EP and the stylish, muted artwork of I’ll Be the Tornado. Like their most accomplished peers, Dads are synthesists, honoring their influences without rehashing them and making an unspoken argument that late-’90s emo was never meant to be quarantined outside of “proper” punk or indie rock. Since they’re a duo, guitarist Scott Scharinger handles lead, rhythm, and bass for Dads, supplying fluid, melodic passages that can stand on their own as evocative instrumentals, a la Mineral or American Football. But Dads also account for the crowd-pleasing urgency of chunky power chords, cathartic, singalong choruses (“Chewing Ghosts”), call-and-response hooks (“You Hold Back”) and jangly college rock (“Take Back Today”). Bradley’s vocals pierce through a clean and clear mix, while his drumming boasts a fast-twitch athleticism that unified the Promise Ring and Braid with Modest Mouse and Les Savy Fav as an alternative from the slacker affectations and slapdash musicianship that defined indie rock a few years prior.
But more importantly, the pains of Dads’ personal evolution are detailed extensively in the lyrics, and I’ll Be the Tornado inherits the annual The Execution of All Things Achievement Award from last year’s winner, Waxahatchee; in other words, it’s the album where the main goal, if not sole purpose, would appear to be providing the greatest number of potential LiveJournal/MySpace/Twitter status updates. Bradley’s lyrics aren’t poetry, and they’re not intellectual or referential, but they are almost entirely composed of a clever variation of things you might find yourself saying in any real life situation. There’s just as much drama as there is sitcom material; when Bradley wants to be a part of a lover’s inside jokes on “But”, it’s sweet, but during the tense acoustic first half of opener “Grand Edge, MI”, he moans, “I wanna tell you about my past…I wanna tell you about everything,” and the sentiment is somewhat threatening. You sense he’s someone with an insatiable urge to disclose his most intimate secrets and the knowledge that it always results in driving people away; but maybe not this time.
Taken in concert, lines like those create an ambivalence that gives the listener a sense of real stakes and humanity in I’ll Be the Tornado; you’re never certain whether Bradley’s confessing to being the good guy or a dick in any situation. During “Take Back Today”, he confides, “I wish you could’ve been there to have met my father/ When he wasn’t always in pain and some doctor’s new project.” But these moments are put up against the real pleasures associated with being an up-and-coming band (“I remember cities in sunsets that I never lived in/ But goddamn, those days/ We were living it”) that are nonetheless fleeting and always leading to the next high: “I made my life into a competition/ Where’s my trophy mantle/ You sent clippings to an article I couldn’t begin to handle.”
The resultant distance from security and trust makes Bradley’s heart grow fond—both “But” and “Fake Knees” slowly evolve to harmonized crescendos and hard lessons about embracing the imperfections in yourself and others. On “Fake Knees”, a partner’s coffee breath and substance issues rattle around Bradley’s head, little annoyances about to metastasize into dealbreakers, before he remembers the warmth of sleeping together in tattered T-shirts and the bigger picture comes into focus—“I’m on a redeye crying over some fucking clothes”. But there are just as many cold, hard truths about how some people just need to be cut out entirely. “Chewing Ghosts” turns the other cheek and it still comes across like a slap in the face anyway. Prior to the rousing affirmation of the chorus, Bradley spits, “Enemies come and enemies go/ Some burn dull enough just to fade away.” Not coincidentally, “enemies” and “memories” rhyme in the same way “punk” and “drunk” do earlier in “Chewing Ghosts”; they’re not exactly synonymous, but in Dads’ experience, those concepts are inextricable.
Even if the echoing post-rock of the seven-minute “Only You” makes it a bit too on-the-nose as an “epic closer,” it serves as a proper way to decompress; leading up to that point, Bradley finds himself obsessing over the past (“I won’t bury my dead/ I just trample the bodies”) and, “Spending so much time in the future, I forgot about the present.” That last line comes in a song called “Take Back Today”, the title of which is the only thing that comes across as a piece of advice rather than one man relating his experience and hoping you understand. But you don’t have to be an artist to grasp how the pursuit of sobriety, companionship and serenity can be at odds with a career or lifestyle that gives you every opportunity to go back to the old, familiar and comforting misery. You’re only required to be a human being, and I’ll Be the Tornado is as accomplished and confident as a band can sound while sorting their shit out in public.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1v1Er2a