What does indie-rock actually stand for? Unlike other styles of music, and unlike most other brands, it is not trying to sell you a single philosophy through one product. Cynics would claim that it’s a music genre strategically made to feel all-encompassing.
But they’d be wrong. If anything, indie rock is the last guitar-based music genre that aims to create a powerful emotional connection with the audience based on real experiences. It does not shy away from tearful confessions or from revealing dreams of ambition. And regardless of what the same critics believe, not everyone gets this style of music.
If anything, Subway Rat’s debut shows just what studying groups can help produce, not just for their sounds but for their emotional content as well. The songs can be stylish and arrogant or just easily slip into deep melancholy and decide to be highly revealing.
Album opener, “Tell Me What to Do”, sets the tone for the rest of the record. Powered by stiff, upbeat percussion, the vocals act as a counterweight. There’s confidence here, but the moments of despair are not hidden from sight.
Next is perhaps the record’s most memorable standalone track, “Rendezvous.” Flancated by the same type of indie instrumentation, David Polanco, aka Subway Rat, shows himself to be the kind of hopeless romantic wearing a leather jacket and sneaking cigarettes behind the bleachers.
In fact, many of the songs reveal a modern artist trying to make sense of what their duty has them do and what their rebellious nature pushes them to do. The new-waveish “V Day” presents the singer as a reluctant philanderer, “Don’t Anwer Me” has him singing about beach getaways over a sturdy bass guitar riff, and even when coming clean on “How Much Was My Fault?” there’s an air of swagger captured in the admission.
Emotions aside, the album’s biggest strength lies in the well-crafted instrumentals and the way in which all of the dozen songs here are pulling in the same direction. The record does not try to hide Subway Rat’s influences. On the contrary, with songs like “Schoolwayrd Crush” or “Tomorrow,” it present alternatives to the instrumental tracks laid down by The Mighty Strokes.
Where will you find yourself at the end of the 12-song collection? Like with the very best 2000s indie-rock records, you’ll be left having to consider both your nostalgia for the past and your hope for the future. Can music still have this kind of profound effect on people? Subway Rat believes it can.
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