(Self-released, CD, digital download)
With the title of their debut record, Coal, Pressure, Time, Burlington’s Bandleader invoke the process of turning coal into a diamond. But they could well be describing the record itself. The 10 songs contained herein all begin with a solid foundation in rock — and in various subgenres, from 1990s alt-rock, to Pavement-y indie rock to straight-up hard rock. The band builds pressure through tense arrangements and emotionally forthright lyrics. And the players are not afraid to take a little time to stretch out, to meander outside of time-honored rock frameworks. The question, then, is whether Bandleader have produced a diamond or a cubic zirconium.
The record opens on “Rhythmic Misstep,” a swaying little cut that trades equally on a lilting Tex-Mex vibe and a thoughtful lyrical bent couched in a slacker delivery. From the outset, lead vocalist Patrick McCormack presents a compelling figure, combining sly poetics with a laid-back reserve. He’s also a versatile singer, moving from a deliberate baritone on the opener to a looser, throatier tack on the following cut, “Satisfy Your Heart.”
That song is also a fine example of Bandleader’s compositional ability, balancing mid-tempo garage-rock bombast with delicate guitar atmospherics, courtesy of Alex Cseh. There’s an intriguing contrast between hard and soft — a condition mirrored in McCormack’s wordplay, which ably tempers post-breakup anger with an undercurrent of lingering regret.
The record’s lead single, “Return to Me,” released in advance of the record last month, mines 1990s alt-rock in both feel and attitude — these ears are reminded of post-grunge outfit the Toadies, which is a good thing.
The title track is perhaps the most artistically anomalous cut of the bunch, and, given its mild shades of gypsy punk, a stylistic reach. Bandleader get bonus points for experimenting, but without much of a hook or resolution, the cut is kind of boring.
The band rebounds on the album’s second half. In particular, the schizo but danceable “Thicker Skin” is a highlight, crammed with as many stylistic twists and turns in four minutes as some bands manage on an entire record.
So have Bandleader produced a diamond on Coal, Pressure, Time? While not exactly producing a priceless gem, they’ve come pretty close. This debut is a solid effort with some truly standout moments, suggesting good things to come from a promising new group.
Coal, Pressure, Time by Bandleader is available at bandleaderband.bandcamp.com. Bandleader play an album-release show at the Monkey House in Winooski on Saturday, October 26.