On a sub-zero evening I met with Racing Days’ front man Brian Engles for a cup of coffee and to talk about music, writing, booking shows and showcasing original music. The term DIY (do it yourself) kept coming to mind. He and his band epitomize this ethic to me. Their new album, “Before the War,” was written, recorded, produced and duplicated in-house. Friends did the artwork and the cover features a wartime photograph of Mr. Engles’s great-grandfather from a World War I victory parade. Inspired by this DIY spirit, I decided to write my first album review.
“Before the War” is the band’s sophomore album. On their debut album, “The Summer Away,” Engles played every instrument and sang every vocal; this time around he shares those responsibilities with bassist Brian Sandlin and drummer Matt Liles. The result is a tight rock trio with some great surprises. Here are some of my favorites.
“Geminid” sets the tone, weaving a tale about the death of a friend, cruising past old haunts and reminiscing. A picture of wintertime Cape Cod is painted with empty bars and beaches. The song works into a frenzy, raging against senseless death and loss.
“Play the Part” has an Arctic Monkeys’ vibe with distorted vocals, pulsing bass lines, bongos, and fuzzy guitar.
“Days of Gold” revolves around a somber guitar lick and reminded me a little of “Lost in the Supermarket” by the Clash. There are some great vocal harmonies here between Engles and Sandlin.
“How Was Your Day?” showcases the band’s knack for tight rhythms, bouncy guitar hooks and irreverent lyrics. The character here throws a very entertaining tantrum. This song is more of an interlude and it feels like there could be more there.
“Hotel St.” is garage rock stomp, sneering lines like, “Dead my eyes are dead. Every time I call her, she can’t bothered.” Sandlin and Liles drive this one with a Black Sabbath-style rhythm section.
“Guilt Complex” is a fun song about “face paint, boogie boards, bike path rides, cooking s’mores.” It features some great drum breaks, and the line, “If I’m just marching toward the end, well, then what’s the rush?”
“Mariners Lane” is psychedelic pop and stream of conscious storytelling. Lines like, “the barista, I’m friends with her. Inside no room for regulars but still I stole this pen from them so I could write a song for you,” bring listeners along for the ride.
“Buttonwillow McKittrick” is all sparse guitar picking and a steady kick drum. The space in this song gives it a great groove. Guest vocalist Eva McNamara adds some ethereal harmonies, and the result is beautiful and a definite standout on the album.
This album is a freewheeling journey through familiar pop music territory. There is a joy in this album that comes across and makes it shine. “Before the War” turns disillusion into a dance party.
“Before the War” is available in physical and digital format at racingdays.bandcamp.com.
For show dates, follow the band at www.facebook.com/racingdaysband.