Fans of Seattle post-sludgecore outfit Akimbo’s 2008 Jersey Shores maybe-swansong will be happy to know that some of the same jangly-guitar groove that so well permeated that concept album also shows up on the self-titled debut from Sandrider. No mystery why, as two-thirds of the new trio (releasing their album via Good to Die Records) are culled directly from Akimbo’s ranks – namely guitarist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski and drummer Nat Damm, joined in Sandrider by bassist/vocalist Jesse Roberts (The Ruby Doe), who meshes with the established duo as well as anyone could possibly ask on Sandrider’s seven tracks. The songs aren’t exactly an extension of what Akimbo accomplished so well on Jersey Shores, marking a shift in the band’s methods from the raw bombast of their earlier work to something more grounded and melodically ranging, but the trio (who still call Seattle home) are definitely aware of where they came from, and mid-tracklist cuts like “Voices” and “Paper” share some similar turns and sparks. Part of any perceived similarity, though, could also easily be attributed to the consistency of tone through which Weisnewski finds himself in the lead position in Sandrider. His vocals and playing style will be immediately recognizable to anyone who heard and/or dug Akimbo (even though he serves as bassist in that outfit), and likewise, Damm’s snare has a similar pop on Sandrider as it did on Jersey Shores, if bolstered by the production here of Matt Bayles, who produced Mastodon’s best albums, Botch, Isis and several other landmarks along the way.
So if Sandrider marks a shift for Weisnewski and Damm, it’s more in the inclusion of Roberts and the overall presentation of their sound than in the style of their play. That said, Sandrider does have a more grounded feel to its material than did Akimbo; a maturation and natural next step from what they last presented. Songs vary in memorability, but each proves worthy in one way or another, and for the flow Sandrider establish across the album as a whole, nothing is out of place or unjustifiable. Roberts is an excellent complement for Weisnewski vocally, the two blending so well together that it’s hard to tell where tradeoffs are (other than backing spots), and Damm’s percussion adds a punk-ish sense of danger to the whole affair, whether it’s the rhythmic shifts of “Crysknife” or the driving finale of closer “Scatter.” Sandrider, because they’re not really a new band, don’t fall prey to what a lot of others might on their first record in terms of not fully realizing the vision of what they’re trying to accomplish, but at the same time, there’s a sense of potential in opener “Children” that speaks to the development of Sandrider as its own band and a hopefully ongoing project. The song has some surfy swagger and sway, and Weisnewski’s scream tops the cleaner singing excellently. His guitar is at the fore, but the balance of the mix is excellent, and Sandrider can strike into either accessibility or riffy abandon depending on the band’s whim.
It’s the latter with “The Corpse,” a song that gets underway with a minute of guitar groove in the intro and probably the best opening line I’ve heard all year – “Breaking bread with the dragon!” – from Weisnewski. Hard not to get into a piece of music that depends like that, and the overall live feel of Sandrider speaks to the band’s awareness of audience, but like a lot of the record, the ethic isn’t anything new for Weisnewski or Damm – or for Roberts for that matter, as The Ruby Doe’s punk-minded altern-art-ive rock has that kind of vibe as well. “The Corpse” benefits from Roberts’ crispness of tone, which doesn’t so much follow the guitar as run alongside it, and effectively. Amp noise serves as transition into “Crysknife,” but really, the tracks especially on the first side of the album stand on their own, the opening trio of “Children,” “The Corpse” and “Crysknife” showing some similarity of approach and a runtime between five and five and a half minutes. They’re not all the same sonically – “Crysknife” feels burlier than “The Corpse” and has a more impatient performance from Damm – but Sandrider aren’t shy either in their appreciation for structure or their handling of it. These are songs with a beginning, middle and end, and each unit in the best of them (I’d include “Crysknife” in that thanks in no small part to the bass line that underscores the bridge) makes the whole stronger. The whole song and the whole album. “Voices” closes out the first half of Sandrider with a quiet creeping-guitar opening and piercing lead line that leads to hits and stops in place of a traditional chorus and provides suitable change to the established modus of the record.
Sandrider’s second half is less balanced but perhaps more exciting, getting under way with the shorter “Paper” (3:50) and presenting about 50 percent of its runtime in the form of the 10-minute “The Judge” before “Scatter” caps the proceedings with further melodic confirmation. Sandrider aren’t really veering from the aesthetic they’ve set up for themselves, but condensed though it is, “Paper” also feels more open, and that certainly stands true for “The Judge” as well. The two flow together so well I wouldn’t be surprised to see them one into the next live, and the former has perhaps the album’s best example of Roberts and Damm’s superlative cooperation as the rhythm section behind Weisnewski. It’s with “The Judge,” though, that Sandrider really allow themselves the sonic space to bring in atmospherics. The song opens with guitar/bass interplay that’s deceptively busy over a steady beat from Damm, and, once the mood is cast, launches into a grandiose-feeling riff-led undulation that’s too short on its first visit but soon to return and encompass the crux of the song, boasting Sandrider’s highlight groove and catchiest guitar line. Both Roberts and Weisnewski seem to be on vocals, working well together, and “The Judge” shows restraint (as I’m told judges periodically do) in not immediately going for what’s the heaviest thing it could be doing at any given moment. That’s a move Akimbo might not have made before Jersey Shores, but it feels natural here, and Roberts’ own maturity only adds to it. The patience and control in the material makes it that much more engaging, and as the song ebbs and flows, it nonetheless provides an overall build and serves as the payoff for the record as a whole.
That might leave “Scatter” in the position of afterthought were it not for the song’s inherent catchiness and strength as a closing argument. Weisnewski throws in a couple face-melters, scream-wise, but “Scatter” is probably also Sandrider’s most melodically successful cut, which bodes well – as previously noted – for Sandrider’s future development as a unit separate either from the legacies of Akimbo or The Ruby Doe (about whom I’ll admit as someone on the other side of the country from where they’ve done most of their playing that I know regrettably little). If that’s the project Sandrider have undertaken, they have their work cut out for them in terms of pulling out those elements from their approach – however, if the self-titled is any indication of the line of growth they’re taking, it could soon be songs like “Voices” and “Children” that the association of these sonics leads to more than any others. A striking and impressive debut that’s heartily recommended to fans of Akimbo, to those unfamiliar and those who avoided them earlier on for the sometimes out-of-control hardcore stretches.
Tags: Good to Die Records, Sandrider, Seattle, Washington