Gloucester City, NJ, located just across the Delaware and tugging on the other end of the Walt Whitman bridge, was perhaps the perfect place to incubate a rough-and-tumble melodic sensibility worthy of driving forth some honest, ornery punk-rock. Having a chiefly Irish-American background lends itself to a hardened yet whimsical cultural spirit, the kind that uses the sufferings of our day-to-days as a lexicon to mold into room-wide chants of triumph and howling ecstasy.
This is the spirit that The Warhawks have tapped as inspiration for their music at large, and they’ve hit a stride on their debut album Never Felt So Good. Within the almost half-hour of music, the band (consisting of guitarists Matt Orlando and John Bilodeau, bassist Thomas Lipski, and drummer Patrick Bilodeau; singing duties are spread amongst them) display a boundless energy, a sense of fun, and diverse writing that celebrates goodness and grit alike. It all comes in a surprisingly well-produced package, even.
All the songs are more or less pop-forward in construction, with a general verse-chorus style, but while the first song follows that general pattern, the last is a complete left-field take on the formula. Though “Not A Problem” opens up the album on a relatively lack-luster drum beat, it opens up quickly, revealing itself to be a boozy punk-rock anthem worthy of comparison to The Fratelli’s career-defining “Chelsea Dagger”. It appears to be their most popular song as a result, but is by no means the only viable hit off the album, being immediately followed by the uniquely Jersian ska-pop-punk mutt “Miracle”. If you imagine a movie scene of a young, rambunctious dreamer riding his bike through the suburbs, baseball card jammed just so that it buzzes as he zips down the street, it would be scored by this song. “Your Touch” follows with honey-sweet sentiment, a lightly Strokes-y pre-chorus, and crisp enough engineering that you hear this guy’s mouth opening in the beginning of the song, which would be weird to point out but for the fact that their energy evokes a live show, and this little detail reinforces that sentiment rather nicely. Serious take.
The grittier “Soulsucker” reinforces the band’s lyrical content and emits a head-bangingly rocky vibe. It plays off the femme-devil life-ruiner idea classically brought to the table by equally debaucherous men who see it fit to make the narrative unfairly one-sided, but here the lyrics are more so reflective of this idea that she and the protagonist are both just willfully swept up by life in their area, come whatever may.
This is followed by the lightly punchy “Don’t Fuck With Me”, which finds the band paying an ode to Heartland country sounds, albeit in a tastefully measured way. Hearing that influence so plainly reveals a layer of it in the rest of band’s music that you can’t stop hearing once it is identified. This sound is equally prevalent in the sappy pop sounds of “Nothing To Do” which follows. These bears have a heart. “Got It From Me” catches the band doing their best Van Morrison impression (which is scarily on-point at times); “Change” expresses a reflective somberness, with properly washed-out backing vocals to match. The strangest and perhaps most satisfying installment is the finale, “Ten Things”. The song catches the band doing their darndest to fit in with the likes of Modest Mouse’s “Float On” or Cage The Elephant’s “Aberdeen”, wherein the mood is a bit forlorn but the message is something of a pick-me-up. Amidst the synth wash and spaced-out yowls of “just wait it out”, you come away feeling like things might, maybe, be okay after all.
What this writer initially expected to be knuckle-busting meathead meanderings turned out to have more heart and soul than expected. Thus proves the time-tested adage: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. What still surprises me is how solid the production is, shifting mixes and processing to better pull off what the songs’ individual stylings call for. Without this dynamic flexibility, the album’s derivative tendencies would not have landed in such a favorable way. Even still, when the songs are erring on copycat, it feels self-aware and celebratory instead of like they’re trying to pull a fast one. All in all, this is a very solid debut, and I’m excited to see where this band takes their sound in the future.
- Energy, heart, and attention to detail make for some of the more exciting alt-rock I’ve heard in a while
- Pulls from a diverse pool of influences, putting their own spin on some time-tested formulas
- Surprisingly well-produced
- Relies on what it knows very heavily, feels derivative at its worst
- Going forward, they’d do well to diverge from some trope-y song subjects (love, drugs, and drinking) which they regularly visited here