Thursday, June 27, 2013

Elway Cracks A Case For Leavetaking

Elway, an aging emo-leaning punk rock band from Fort Collins, Colorado, that captured headlines two years ago after retired Broncos quarterback John Elway asked them to change their name, has a brand new sophomore album out. Maybe the newest release will put the old publicity to rest. The band needs a break from it.

Sure, the story brought the band attention but it has also buried something more important. The band is better than good, which was the reason they had changed their name from 10-4 Eleanor in 2011. As more people discovered their music, they felt the old name was a hold back.

Leavetaking widens the distance away from 10-4 Eleanor and their Fort Collins roots. 

Back when the band was releasing 10-4 Eleanor albums like ...Too Bad, the bad kept everything simple. While some punk rock bands found causes, they always saw a cause to party. Most of their music was about that too. Ask anyone who saw them around 2010. 10-4 Eleanor was a good time.

Leavetaking, on the other hand, is a more mature sound for the former punk party clowns. They still know how to have a good time, but you can tell they have become more concerned with their craft.

Craft might even be the right word given that label says they produced the album with the help of Matt Allison (The Lawrence Arms) at Atlas Studio in Chicago and approximately 510 cans of Busch Light. How long it took to finish it off is anybody's guess. The beer, not the album. It's clear the album took as long as it needed.

It's especially clear in the lyrics, perhaps best punctuated by listening to Tim Browne play an acoustic session for KPSU. The performance debuted back in 2011, so expect the studio version to have evolved significantly. (There isn't much tame about Browne as implied here.) He looks different too.

Salton Sea is a song about regret and coming to terms with it. While easily dismissed as one of the band's growing list of sad sack songs, Browne retains some hopeful notes that this too shall pass. He wants to get on with it. On the studio version, the entire song plays tighter at under two minutes.

Tightness is something that can be heard in other areas as well. Brian Van Proyen (guitar), Joe Henderer (bass), and Garrett Carr (drums) are all playing better than ever. They aren't the band that sort of stumbled together to hammer out break-up inspired punk songs in Browne's basement — even if a couple of songs might convince you otherwise.

Montreal, which Browne presents on the album as a stripped acoustic, is about remembering a break up and wanting an apology. The track makes for a solid break from the aggressive and soaring melodies that typify Elway. Their brand of punk rock has mellowed and gotten significantly more complex. At times, it could easily fit into alternative more than punk.

The songwriting stands out above the clutter on Leavetaking.

It cuts at how Browne approaches composition. He has always felt more comfortable writing music that can have an emotional impact on people whether they agree with him or not. For those who do agree, they will find it impossibly easy to relate to him as a songwriter. There is some common ground.

Aside from the shaky vocal opening of The Great Divorce, anyone who has had their faith tested can quickly pick up on Browne's chronic angst about it. He does a fine job balancing his atheistic view and the girl he sings about. Better standouts include One Flew West; Someday, Sea Wolf; Christopher; and There Is A Line.

Prophetstown gets caught up in too much familiarity, but it has a solid sing-along chorus. Ariel is also worth checking out. It's not punk, but it illustrates how easy it is for Browne to write bust-up songs. It's both snarky and bitter, with the only pang off hope being that he won't remember her over time.

Leavetaking By Elway Rips 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There isn't any new ground being broken on Leavetaking, but Elway has found the right sound to mature with for another decade or so. That's better than most bands. Other than that, expect some flack over the fact that they spend more time in Chicago than Colorado or that they're overrated. I dunno. They just seem like talented, approachable guys to me that can lay down decent tracks.

You can pick up Leavetaking by Elway on Amazon. Barnes & Noble has the vinyl LP listed. You can also download the album from iTunes. The band has a sporadic schedule in July. Check out their tour schedule listed on Facebook.
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