By David Edscorn
Against Me! is one of those bands that refuses to stop evolving. Starting as an anarchist folk-punk band from Florida that played sweaty acoustic anthems in crowded dingy basements, the band has changed slightly every album. This gradual change culminated in 2007’s New Wave, a highly-polished rock record with nary an acoustic song in sight. The critics raved about what they saw as progress, and die-hard fans raged about what they saw as selling out.
Personally, I prefer the raucous energy of the band’s early albums, but I also accept their new stuff as having moments of brilliance. Therefore, I was very interested to see what front-man Tom Gabel would turn out with his new long EP, Heart Burns. These seven songs are split between more sonic experimentation as well as a few songs that represent a step back to the band’s earlier sound.
Initially, I was disappointed with the first four songs. On these songs, Gabel experiments with different styles, and it doesn’t always work. The lead track, “Random Hearts,” is an almost new-wave (the style, not the album) sounding rock song. It’s interesting, but doesn’t really go anywhere. This seems to be a common problem on this part of the album. The songs have intriguing concepts, but Gabel fails to execute them to their full potential. “Conceptual Paths” attempts to mix acoustic guitar with electronic beats, and once again it doesn’t quite work. Lyrically, the concept behind “Cowards Sing at Night” (Senator McCain still fighting the Vietnam War in his head) is great, but I wish Gabel had taken us farther into this lost warrior’s psyche. These aren’t bad songs, they just could have been done much better.
Thankfully, Gabel pulls off the last three songs with the unplugged passion and energy that I’ve come to love. “Anna is a Stool Pigeon” is an engrossing tale of an activist that falls in love with an FBI informant and winds up in prison for his trouble. It’s almost Dylanesque in it’s delivery, helped by the harmonica between verses. “Harsh Realms” is a haunting song about the stress of life in the 21st century. The album finishes with the bluntly-titled “100 Years of War,” which debates the future of our country over jangling guitars and an infectious chorus.
All in all, this isn’t a bad album. The first four songs don’t quite work the way they could, but the last three more than make up for that. Personally, I would like to see Tom Gabel release a full album of all acoustic material. He’s at his best when he’s railing against the system without fancy gimmicks to distract the message. 7 out of 10
Download: “Anna is a Stool Pigeon,” “Harsh Realms,” “100 Years of War”