Monday, August 13, 2012

The Drowning Men Are All Unknown

Recently signed by Flogging Molly's new record label Borstal Beat Records, The Drowning Men won't be unknown for long. Their new album, All Of The Unknown, brings in more indie rock than their folk rock roots from Oceanside, Calif.

With the help of producer Billy Mohler (Smashing Pumpkins, Macy Gray), their first time in a big studio, and perhaps some new influences after touring with Flogging Molly, what started out as a simple EP began to develop into something else entirely. All Of The Unknown became a sophomore album that adds more passion than their previous outing.

All Of The Unknown packs some indie punch.

Most of the album, in fact, was written on the road while touring in support of their last album. With all the road time, frontman Nate Bardeen had his first opportunity not to feel rushed. Instead he could sit down with the band, go over the material, and change things around.

By the time they did pour into the studio, many of the songs were already tour-tested and ready for live recording. That's not to say some things didn't change once they were there. One of the noticeable changes in the music was adding emphasis to the chorus, something Bardeen was big about.

What he is also big about are theatrical melodies and swells. There are plenty in the band's breakout song, Smile. The slow-burn atmospheric track pushes more pop than indie rock, but the songwriting cuts to the soul of the singer. Bardeen says it's exactly where he is now: broke, stressed, and making sacrifices.

The first track released as a music video is different. Lost In A Lullaby had a working man feel, toiling away in a machine shop to produce something memorable. With the help of James Smith (guitar), Todd Eisenkerch (bass), Rory Dolan (drums), and Gabe Messer (keys), The Drowning Men do exactly that.

While the song doesn't smack you upside the head, it has this restrained tension that plays even better on stage. As you might guess, the band sounds even more raw in person too, even if many of their songs have a fullness that pushes outside any crunchiness. Instead, you feel Bardeen's chronic desperation.

The beat-driven I Am The Beggar Man captures that feeling perfectly as Bardeen belts the verse above the percussion. The lyrics take on the reflective tone of someone who chased money all his life only at his father's bequest only to end up old and broke. In the song, he longs for a second chance.

The balance of the album by The Drowning Men.

Other standout songs in the mix include the brooding, slow-burning earnest in The Waltz; the atmospheric largeness of A Fool's Campaign; and A Better Place. The latter might be a bit heavy on  theatrics, almost belonging more to a musical than a rock band. But like many of the songs hummed up by Bardeen, it's in the lyrics and delivery.

If there is a common thread to all this stuff in his head, it skews toward people who punch the clock and hold out hope despite knowing there aren't any guarantees. You take your chances and hope you didn't waste your time. You never know.

In fact, some of that sentiment might have even come out of touring last year. The band was hit by a drunk driver on their way to play the Airborne Toxic Event. Fortunately, no one was hurt even though their van was totaled and some of their equipment destroyed. Remarkably, they made the event.

The Drowning Men's All Of The Unknown Breaks 4.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The band has clearly paid some dues. The best part of their story is they are nowhere near down. With every successive EP and album, the band gets better and better, building to up to something noticeable. As long as they stay focused and don't drift too far into dramatics, there is some real promise here.

Not every song is needed off All Of The Unknown. The best of All Of The Unknown by The Drowning Men has been mentioned and can be picked up on iTunes. You can also order it on vinyl from Barnes & Noble or find All Of The Unknown on Amazon. Check out the band on Facebook for tour information.
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