Music Review: State Radio Year Of The Crow
Have you ever noticed there are some bands which just feel too big to listen too indoors? There's something about their sound, or their energy that makes you feel you need to have open space around you when play their music because the walls of the building your sitting in are somehow or other too confining for you to appreciate what they are doing. This doesn't mean the band is necessarily loud, but they are so intense that you need to be outside so you have enough room to run amuck when the feeling strikes you.
I guess a live venue where there's lots of room would be good too, but these aren't the types of bands you want to see in a fixed seat venue, or in a confined space like a small club or bar. Someone in Toronto, Canada made the mistake of booking the Clash into a fixed seat venue on their first tour over here and it resulted in the first two rows of bolted seats being ripped out of the concrete floor because the audience needed to dance.
The next day there were headlines about a rock and roll crowd rioting. Yet, as those of you who ever saw The Clash know their concerts were so intense that if there wasn't a way supplied for people to expend the energy generated, they would invariably find a way on their own to do so. It wasn't an example of "Punk" violence, as the sensationalist press would have had people believe, it was about what happens when people tap into real emotional energy and are denied a means of releasing it.
Now I'm not condoning vandalizing a concert venue or saying that bands should aspire to inspiring violence in their fans (anyone who knew the Clash knows that they wouldn't have condoned stupid violence either) but at the same time concert promoters really ought to know enough about the acts they book to realize who is appropriate to what venue. For example, I would never take a group like State Radio and try and contain them and their energy in a place which doesn't at the least give their audience an opportunity to flail about.
Led by former Dispatch vocalist/guitarist Chad Stokes (nee Urmston), the three person renewable energy source known as State Radio also includes Chuck Fay on bass and a drummer named Mad Dog. Following the same pattern as Dispatch, State Radio is fiercely independent and eschews any contact or contracts with major labels. Their first disc Us Against The Crown was released in 2006 and just this past February 5th they released the follow up Year Of The Crow.
It was when I first listened to Year Of The Crow that I was reminded about how difficult it is to listen to some bands over your headphones and sitting down. This is not music to get mellow to folks - and while I do recommend sitting down with the lyric sheet at least once while listening to the disc - it was only when I plunked the disc into my archaic RCA portable disc player and went out into the snow this morning that I felt like I had enough space around me to appreciate what they were doing. It's the type of music that you can really embarrass yourself with if you're not careful. You get so wrapped up in the songs, that you can find yourself all of a sudden singing along at the top of your lungs with a chorus or standing in the aisles of the grocery store pogoing while looking at the selection of cat treats.
First things first; if you've not heard them before and you've come to State Radio looking for Dispatch, well you're not going to find it here. Sure there are similarities, Chad wrote songs for both groups after all, but there's an edginess about the content and the presentation that I hadn't felt from Dispatch's music. While there was always some sort of social content in the earlier band's work, there was a lightness of tone that allowed for a wider audience appeal.
There's no way that anybody with any sympathies to the current administration is going to be able to listen to Year Of The Crow without having their beliefs called into question. Whether it's the condemnation of the whole Bush clan from grandpa down (he stole Geronimo's skull from its burial ground so he could use it in some fraternity initiation at Yale) in "Guantanamo", their homage to Dick Cheney's Halliburton war profiteering in "Gang Of Thieves", or their tribute to the fine work the CIA do to this day in destabilizing governments in South America on the song "CIA".
State Radio is far more reminiscent of the politicalized music of The Clash and similar bands of the late seventies and early eighties when they show this side. References to the Weather Underground in "Gang Of Thieves" makes it clear they also know that it takes more than platitudes to change the way things work. They're not advocating violence or anything like that (calm down Homeland Security) but they are saying there's nothing wrong with openly resisting what's going on in Washington right now.
Now I don't want to give the impression that they're a one note band, they can tone down the anger and sing with compassion as well. "Bemjamin Darling Part 1" is a wonderful recounting of how the first black man in Maine came to be freed and settle his own plot of land, and "Fight No More" is a moving recounting of Thunder In The Mountain's (Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce) long retreat in the face of broken treaties and the government's policy of exterminating the wild horses the tribe depended on for survival. I defy anyone to listen to "Sudan" and not be moved by the narrator's wish "for guns to all turn to sand and leave the Sudan"
The song that touched me the most was "As With Gladness". Chad describes it in press notes as Mother Earth regretting ever having let man have anything to do with the planet. For me what it did was encapsulate the frustration I feel at how we continue to believe that there's nothing wrong with the way we treat the planet as if it were an both a garbage disposal and an unending supply of goodies.
Musically State Radio plays appropriately to their lyrics and they use style changes to emphasis different moods and attitudes. The result is that a song can start out hard driving and fierce and then modulate down in order to ensure we're playing close attention to a particular lyric, and then pick up steam again to increase a song's emotional edge.
State Radio and Year Of The Crow is not going to be to everyone's taste, especially people who don't want to face up to some of the more unpleasant realities of the world that we live in. They aren't going to make friends among the neo-cons either for that matter, but I don't think they're going to be too chuffed by that. State Radio have something to say, and those willing to listen can expect some of the most passionately honest music since the Clash. These guys could very well be the next "only band that matters".