Backwards Dancer — New Life in Old Shoes
With the release of their EP New Life in Old Shoes, Backwards Dancer show that they can craft enjoyable emo/alternative tracks with the energy of their heroes, Nirvana and Brand New, while still sounding like themselves. The vocals of Zack Shaw demonstrate that they are capable of carrying and sustaining both stability and dissonance, and, surprisingly, Shaw’s vocals lack the “whiny” or “nasally” quality attributed to many emo/alternative vocalists, such as Chris Conley from Saves the Day or Anthony Green from Circa Survive. Fortunately, too, the band has not electronicized Shaw’s vocals like some more popular groups in the emo/alternative sphere, such as Dance Gavin Dance. In addition, the guitars on New Life in Old Shoes have a kind of edge that sounds more genuine than formulaic, and the guitars, at times, bear a mathy sound to them, which, maybe for moments in “Quiet” and “Rearview,” resemble a faster-paced version of American Football. The lyrics, too, are not overly hackneyed as they traverse themes of many an emo or pop-punk song, like the growing pains inherent in coming-of-age and the internal conflict of mental health. New Life in Old Shoes is not a revolutionary release — it is just the beginning for Backwards Dancer — but the EP shows potential for the band to release some more above-average emo/alternative tunes in the future.
The solid guitars are evident from the first moment in “Quiet” that opens with the refrain and drumming which carry the rest of the song. Desperate-sounding lyrics complete the mood of the track, pleading, “Tell me all that we are is more than a mistake.” Around three-fourths of the way through, too, is some enjoyable guitar-shredding that completes the climax of the track, and Shaw’s vocals here, similar to “Lack,” traverse a nice range between stability and dissonance.
2. “Collecting the Dividends”
“Collecting the Dividends,” similar to “Quiet,” opens with the refrain and beat that underlies the whole song. Still, the track is a decent tune with some consistent vocals from Shaw. One difference, though, from the other tracks is there are backing vocals used after the line “picking some roses now” delivered in a huskier tone, which, if overused, could sound too cheesy or formulaic, like the overdone clean/unclean vocal blueprint already followed religiously by so many bands.
“Lack” is the best track on New Life in Old Shoes. It combines all the strengths Backwards Dancer displays on their EP and compiles them into one song. The furthest range of Shaw’s vocals between stability versus dissonance is expressed here as well as the EP’s most interesting lyrics, directly mentioning “a lack of medication” which tie into the recurring theme of mental health.
“Rearview,” like the three tracks preceding it, begins loudly with the refrain that connects the entire track. The lyrics seem to tell the depression-ridden tale of past (that is to say, rearview) memories or a particular incident which frustrated a relationship and, resultantly, pulled the narrator into a melancholic slump. Shaw’s vocals, along with the angsty guitars, add an enjoyable edge and sarcasm to the song, maybe suggesting that his repetition of the line, “Do what you wanna do,” is derisive toward the absent target (or himself?).
5. “Old Shoes”
So far, each track on the EP has had a nice, loud rock-edge to it. “Old Shoes” might, predictably, be a closer, in a sense, to this debut EP. At first, it begins quieter than any preceding track, meeting expectations, but then it builds to a similar tempo akin to the mid-portion of each preceding song. Maybe this would be fine if it differed from previous tracks, but it is a bit disappointing since Backwards Dancer already proved with the first four tracks that they can write a solid tune with a rock-edge.
It sets a high bar, but maybe the band could stretch to write a song comfortable for most or all of its run-time at a completely different tempo than the majority of other tracks on the album — like, say, the closer to a Brand New LP (e.g., “Play Crack the Sky,” “Handcuffs”). Other bands with similar musical leanings and ambitions have added their own flair to the emo/alternative sound (O’brother with their post- and progressive rock influences and Tanner Merritt’s vocals oft-compared to Jeff Buckley; The Dear Hunter with their penchant for storytelling, eccentric album concepts, and progressive rock influences; The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die with their post-rock influences), and, hopefully, Backwards Dancer will diversify and dynamize their sound further with future releases, giving an incremental make-over to a genre experiencing a revival but frequently dismissed and criticized for being too formulaic.
Favorite track(s): “Quiet,” “Rearview” “Lack”
Least favorite track(s): “Old Shoes”
Sorry if you don’t agree. Please keep your discourse civil in the comments.
Check out Backwards Dancer on Bandcamp here.
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