Dear Forbidden are a band I’ve known to be a consistent supply of on-par, accessible rock tunes appropriate for any range of Center City bar-goers. Their 2017 release Slow Beat provided a familiar, slightly nerdy Cat Power-meets-Blackfield sound that hit me like a young wine—totally potable, but noticeably underdeveloped. With “Pledge,” I’d hoped that some of the trio’s perseverant faults in production and arrangement (particularly the busy drum presence) would have been remedied. Unfortunately, while “Pledge” certainly succeeds as a more hard-hitting, acidic step in the band’s evolution, many of the same production issues remain.
The first 20 or so seconds of the track afford the listener very little guidance as to where this track is headed—and I actually really like that. Big, thick drums enter like mortars over a salting of shrill and undulating feedback, and I’m left with nothing to do but prepare for the Hulk Hogan smackdown of a lifetime. But then it just… doesn’t happen. It falls into a pretty white-bread rock groove just in time for a cheesy, karaoke night verse—the latter descriptor added in frustration that a band with an appreciable amount of local visibility has still not learned to hi-pass a vocal. It just sounds off. Not quite bad, definitely not great. Pair that with a dated, repetitive top-line and you’ve got a recipe for a verse I cannot jive with.
The mix and arrangement improve noticeably in the chorus. This is likely a symptom of the master’s hamfisted compression, but it’s an improvement nonetheless. The vocal harmonies sit well, the drums are in balance, and the bass tone is still delicious (it’s really, really good). This balance is short-lived however, as this drummer evidently cannot enter or leave a part without making their presence felt. We are bridged from chorus back to verse with a sheer unadulterated onslaught of a tom fill. It is simply too busy, and feels more like the trio is attempting to win a battle of the bands over the creation something compelling (and they sound like they win a lot of battles of the bands). If Dear Forbidden would just take the piss a little bit in their presentation, this would not be nearly as much of a problem. But this song is apparently supposed to be addressing anger, trauma, and hopelessness in post-2016 sociopolitics, which leaves me asking why such a blasé effort was made towards exploring that anger sonically.
The effect, or lack thereof, of this song is emblematic of a fault many white bands exhibit, failing to substantially contribute to dialogues in a post-Trump era. They discuss how hypocrisy is bad, and taking people’s rights away is a bad move, and how reality is extra spooky since the proverbial bombs fell. All of these things are within the range of true—I think most can agree to that—but Dear Forbidden fails to effectively consider themselves or their position in that landscape or effectively elaborate on the crayon-tight points made in the lyrical rhetoric. The effort is sophomoric, and needs dedicated refining to reach a point of distinction from the white noise of performative allyship. “Pledge” has fun elements, is very accessible, and contains the seeds of good ideas, but Dear Forbidden have some time and development to go before the results of their core intentions can be brought into focus.
- Good bass tone
- Poor mixing
- Undercooked ideas
- Cognitive dissonance in arrangement vs. subject material.