Here’s the basic concept behind EP ‘I Surrender Records Presents: Our Voices’. You take a handful of punk and punkish bands ranging from a bit famous to pretty famous, you strip them of their frontmen whom you then get to write and record a track of their own. The offerings are largely acoustic-based, but they all avoid the full-on stripped-down aesthetic and sexify their arrangements with a couple of added instruments. The big selling point is, of course, the presence of eternal adolescent Adam Lazzara (of Taking Back Sunday fame), who is joined by Bayside’s Anthony Raneri, Saves The Day’s Chris Conley and I Am The Avalanche’s Vinnie Caruana.
While it might be the headline of the show, Lazzara’s ‘Because It Works’ is arguably the EP’s weakest moment, which isn’t to say that it’s bad, but that’s it’s emphatically adequate. Lazzara mixes his knack for pop-rock catchiness with a light Dylan-esque folk aesthetic. In truth it has everything of reject Taking Back Sunday track with a harmonica, plus there’s a distinctive laziness in the ad nauseam repetitiveness of the chorus, all of which conspire to make this a rather unsatisfying for those looking for something a little left-wing from the hairy man. Anthony Raneri’s ‘String Me Along’ is a first step forward. Taking the straight-up pop route, the Bayside man unleashes a steady beat and joyous piano. It’s a sugar-coated ride of smiles and friendliness, and the perfect remedy for a bone-shaking cold morning.
It may not be as immediately catchy and up-beat, but Chris Conley’s ‘Diamonds & White Gold’ nevertheless echoes the previous track’s similarly cheery mood. Used to achieving a delicate balance between positive pop and a darker, bittersweet edge with his band, Conley largely tips in favour of the former here while retaining a slight hint of those off-kilter instrumentals that keep it from being just a run-of-the-mill pop track. The EP’s most fun track, however, comes courtesy of Vinnie Caruana’s ‘Sick Down To My Heart’. The man applies his husky tones to a driven acoustic ditty –complete with floaty organ/synth melodies– in which he means to convey a hateful letter to an unknown entity. It’s nasty and irreverent (though not unheard of), and is easily the most compelling contribution on offer.
I Surrender Records have turned up with a concept that might, with time, prove a rather worthwhile experiment. There are enough distinctive voices in indie/punk bands out there to fuel a fair amount of these four-track EPs, but the company might find it a more rewarding process if their selection process relied less on reputation than the particular quality of the tracks contributed. Of course, I am taking an idealistic standpoint here which entirely ignores the financial interests at play, but while it may have turned out a competent offering, a less glamourous line-up might enable some artists to indulge in more personal, and thus less familiar, experiments.
‘I Surrender Records Presents: Our Voices’ by Various is out now on I Surrender Records.
Words by James Berclaz-Lewis (@swissbearclaw)