Tuesday, September 29, 2009

State Radio - Let It Go (September 29th, 2009)

This is a bit more of an obscure one, and probably relevant to much less people than Pearl Jam, but I wouldn't be being true to myself if I didn't review it as well. State Radio's music has been a large part of my life for half a decade, and I'm more partial to them than I should probably admit to.
For those unfamiliar with State Radio, they were formed in 2002 by guitarist/songwriter Chad Urmston, who had just broken up with his previous band, Dispatch. For those unacquainted, Dispatch was probably the most popular independent band of all time, with a following so fervent that their last performance drew a crowd of over a hundred thousand. State Radio was founded with entirely different musical goals in mind, combining elements of punk, reggae, folk and ska with searing political views, as their latest's cover art would suggest.
//side note: the artwork actually terrifies me now, as my place of residence was recently invaded by riot and army squads dressed exactly like that, donning tear gas and sonic guns

State Radio's latest, entitled Let It Go, was arguably the most anticipated album the band has ever released, due to its material being popular at live shows as far back as 2002 (Blood Escaping Man) or 2004 (Held Up). The folk/acoustic element of the band is noticeably missing here, focusing almost entirely on their reggae and punk aspects.

The opener, Mansin Humanity, is a sprawling, distortion-laden five minute epic about the Armenian Genocide. This is State Radio at their best; featuring a harsh, in-your-face devastatingly loud sound, a slow, mournfully melodic chorus, and the political implications they've been known for for so long. The recording is near perfect, with guitar tone just harsh enough to drive the topic home, and a perfect, blood-curdling screams near the end by bassist Chuck Fay.
Calling All Crows, although not necessarily a bad song, suffers from odd production, and an almost unbearable bell ring at the opening provides the worst transition from the previous track I could possibly imagine. It showcases the reggae side of State Radio, along with a call to action for woman's rights in Africa, further supported by the band's excellent organization of the same name. When performed live previous to its release, this was one of my favorites in the band's catalog, but the recording just doesn't cut it.
Doctor Ron the Actor is a true gem. It leans more towards the Ska side, evoking the likes of Streetlight Manifesto with a terse, traditional ska verse and a roaring horn-backed chorus. Chuck Fay absolutely shines here, as the basswork really is the driving force behind the song. The percussion is also absolutely top notch (kudos to Mad Dog), as are the vocal harmonies. Nothing about this song isn't perfect, except for some strange mixing on the cymbols in the chorus.
Held Up is probably one of the best songs State Radio has ever written. Its vocal melodies are some of the catchiest Chad has ever penned, with some of the most powerful music in their catalog. The guitar roars stronger than ever before, and the percussion is absolutely devastating. This one needs to be heard to be believed.
Still and Silent features a completely new sound for the band, integrating something that sounds more like modern alternative bands into State Radio's traditional punk roots. The percussion is absolutely fantastic here as well, although mixed towards the back more often than not. The songwriting is Chad at his best, demanding how one can stay "Still and silent" with the world functioning as it is.

Arsenic and Knights are both solid songs, the latter adopting the feel of an anthem that many a Bostonian would be proud to don. Blood Escaping Man features a fantastic harmonica intro, and is by far one of my personal favorites.
Evolution is an attempt to directly emulate the old Jamacian reggae style, which it does rather nicely. That being said, it seems terribly out of place, and feels nothing like its surrounding songs. Bohemian Grove is also reggae, but feels a lot more organic, and fits much more nicely. Its entirely chorus driven, with a slow, droning verse lasting until almost halfway into the song before its amazingly catchy chorus takes over. The title track, in direct contrast, is entirely verse-based, with only a three-word chorus of (you guessed it) Let It Go. It starts very strong with a highly melodic verse before diving into a surprisingly rough chorus, and an outro that feels like a loose jam.
The hidden track (Indian Moon) is actually not a new song at all, but a reggae version of an acoustic song released years previous. It was apparently recorded 'live' in the studio, with the bassist and drummer switching instruments. Although it definitely could have been edited into a solid track, there's something raw and just plain fun about this recording. It hasn't failed to bring a smile to my face yet.

Let It Go has some very strong parts, but also suffers from a few awkward points. Nonetheless, its very much worth checking out, and is highly recommended to both newcomers to State Radio and devoted fans alike. Vinyl lovers of the world will be thrilled to see their own release, the first of its kind available from the band

Track Listing:
  1. "Mansin Humanity" - 5:07
  2. "Calling All Crows" - 3:38
  3. "Doctor Ron The Actor" - 4:02
  4. "Arsenic & Clover" - 3:06
  5. "Bohemian Grove" - 4:35
  6. "Knights of Bostonia" - 4:26
  7. "Let It Go" - 3:12
  8. "Evolution" - 3:55
  9. "Held Up By The Wires" - 4:37
  10. "Blood Escaping Man" - 3:32
  11. "Still & Silent" - 4:06
  12. "Indian Moon (Reggae) (Hidden Track)
Highlights: Doctor Ron The Actor, Held Up By The Wires, Still & Silent
Overall: ★★★★½


  1. I'm not going to lie to you. I was trying to think of a very sophisticated response to this. But you already know I love it and that I've read it twice. Really...I just wanted to see what leaving a comment was like. I'm awesome - clearly.