By: Connor Hayes
In the year 1592, at the dawn of playwright William Shakespeare’s career, he was subjected to a scathing criticism of his works in a pamphlet entitled, Groats-Worth of Wit. Attributed as the posthumously published work of another playwright, Robert Greene, it alludes to Shakespeare being an “upstart crow beautified with our feathers”, or plainly put, an actor that thinks they can also write for theater.
While frontman Jonathan Adams is a musician, and not an actor, his vocal range is nothing short of theatrical. Paired with incisive themes of tragedy and loss, it’s no wonder album openers “Bad Medicine”, “Ballad Of Broken Bottles”, and “Dixie Wailin” strike such a beautiful contrast of form vs. content. Although the former track harkens to the post-punk revival, the latter two are huge nods to the Cramps’ rockabilly stylings, and highlight both Adams’ sorrowful croon, and drummer Forest DeCoste’s versatility.
“Song Of Time” signals a change in pace, as Adams’ saccharine tone turns violent and bombastic, as his guitar follows suit. The track also features an incredible hook, and does not disappoint nor lose steam as it tosses to and fro like a ship being battered by rogue waves. The sentimental, ephemeral “Melancholy Haze” is a tromp through nostalgic memories and a welcome introspection, before returning to the pell-mell of the sardonic blues-rocker, “Mercury Kisses.”
On an album so concerned with heavy concepts and reflection, the beachy and tambourine-laden, “Heart to California” strikes an oddly refreshing chord, further exhibiting the band’s love of diversity and episodic segments. Following the manic doom-metal of “Lying & Crying,” Adams’ and DeCoste’s penchant for no-nonsense, rockabilly-influenced material rears its head with “Tightrope Walker” and “Nice Guy”.
Before this panoramic album arrives at it’s closer, there’s a spirited, jangly ode to The Smiths in “What Did I Say”. As the pace gradually slows, “Wait for Me” beseeches Adams’ not yet corporeal future lover, and reiterates the notion that binds this myriad of soundscapes together. The Upstart Crows’ debut album is simply a reflection on the Herculean task of wading through the cynicism and disillusion of the modern search for true love: “Records spin, photos fade, but remember all of the names/Good things come to those who wait/I’ll believe it when I see it.”