I was so damn grateful this afternoon to see that Vinnie Caruana himself tweeted Bring the Noise to thank us for the review: "thank you guys, I'm very touched xo". I don't think it gets any better than that.
Excerpt: From love, hate, friends, family, personal injury to acts of God – the New York quintet cover all these themes and more in their third, highly-anticipated release Wolverines, raising the bar once more for hardcore-fuelled pop-punk rock acts everywhere.
I Am the Avalanche
Bring the Noise’s deputy editor came to me and said “If you don't love [Wolverines], then our love affair is over”. Quite the brash statement to give, but I can’t say I was worried – I was certain I would enjoy the third release by the New York rockers as much as I have their previous two efforts. Having already heard ‘The Shape I’m In’, ‘Two Lovers’ and heart-tugging ‘Where Were You?’ prior to the album’s drop thanks to the band’s savvy know-how of self-promotion through social media sites, it was safe to say I was looking at a record that would stand the test.
Since the release of 2011’s Avalanche United, guitarist Mike Ireland departed ways with the band in the lead up to owning his second bar, The Three Diamond Door in Brooklyn (his first bar is Pearl’s Social & Billy Club if you wanted to Google it), and bassist John Oliva joined the ranks to replace Kellen Robson. Now with one less member and a revamp of line-up, the quintet seem grounded and more mature – this is now the work of men who each have roughly fifteen-to-twenty years each of music running through their blood; their blood has aged (like a fine wine, mmhmm) and it is apparent that there is less emotional conflict and seeking for acceptance in these ten songs... And whilst they have not been consistently working together, and have had time off (not as mysteriously or as prolific as their notorious neighbours Glassjaw however), it is clear that nothing has caught I Am the Avalanche off guard.
Of course, this never stopped Ireland from rearing his head in the production of Wolverines, he still lent a hand and wrote the music for two of the final songs.
This aging thankfully suits the me of today and now, rather than the me of yesteryear, who drank in the passion and desperation in lines such as “Jesus Christ, I need you now, or anyone who feels like helping out” (‘Clean Up’, I Am the Avalanche, 2005) and “Promise me, if we both die violently, that the blood dripping from our chins is a symphony” (‘Symphony’, I Am the Avalanche, 2005) – this group of special individuals have grown up alongside me, beaming the light and beckoning the soundtrack to my own personal development and turmoil.
Now older, wiser and better than ever, Wolverines is a fresh blend of what the band can offer; Avalanche United seemed to harbour old flavours left over from the band’s hiatus and a set of rare demos they released back in 2008, which they called Paperwork.
Recorded at The Barber Shop Studio in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, a studio built into an old, beautiful church from the 1800s and produced by drummer Romnes, I Am the Avalanche have progressed their unique brand of gritty pop-punk, resulting in a more structured, introspective, and authentic final product, as Caruana said to Rock Sound last month: “I think it’s our most well thought-out and least rushed record. Times spent at rock bottom and also feelings of personal triumph have shaped what I feel is the perfect record for us as a band and for our supporters as well”.
We’re eased into this record, starting off with ‘Two Runaways’, this is a bold and uplifting rock piece, yet an interesting choice for an opening track when we listen to the context and lyrics (“He’s gonna’ to marry her, he’s never gonna’ let it fall apart”) - it’s hard to picture groups of teenagers crying these lyrics out, but easy to see those reaching that ‘grown up’ stage of their lives fully appreciating it, humming along and smiling, embracing the pure I Am the Avalanche chord-heavy sound, before reverting back to our youth, rekindling our love for pop-punk burdened rock with track two, ‘177’.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘177’ is named after the New York state route, much like Taking Back Sunday and their 152 signifier that can be found throughout their entire back catalogue in various devious ways. The track itself is fast paced and lively, almost picturesque and ideal for a Tony Hawk Skateboarding video game soundtrack.
Following on from this, ‘The Shape I’m In’ is unrelenting yet fun and keeps the audio party alive; it is the perfect poster-song for I Am the Avalanche to export and have portray their essence; “it encompasses a lot of the sound that we’ve made up until now” Caruana stated to Kill the Stereo in a recent interview. When the verse kicks in, I can’t imagine anyone not nodding along, stomping their feet, or air-drumming to the dynamic pace and eventual soaring chorus. Inspired by Caruana’s life-altering spinal injury, we’re hit with a harsh dose of reality – songs discussing adult themes and real-life trouble are not the easiest to come by.
Topped off with a killer bass break-down/bridge (we’re not talking about the whole ‘chug chug chug’ thing now either), ‘The Shape I’m In’ is an anthemic, fist-in-the-air hardcore based pop-punk smash. It may only be March, but I think we’ve already found a song that’ll prevail on your playlist this summer.
‘Young Kerouacs’ carries on in similar fashion, now with the true gruff of Caruana’s blood-thirsty gritty vocals barking out “I’m not coming back”, the work rate of guitarist Swanson comes to the forefront with the conviction of a punk ethos: confidently simple, strong chords and clear-cut rock hooks to glamorise a really blatant pop-punk chorus.
It’s obvious that the song is inspired by the works of nomadic novelist Jack Kerouac; tales of travelling the band most likely relate to, after all Ireland’s departing statement on the band’s official website read: “From our apartment burning down in 2004 to smoking spliffs on a lawn in Paris, [from] eating sushi in Tokyo with No Use For a Name to holding koala bears in Australia, [from] hitchhiking to a show in Michigan [...] to slamming a bottle of whiskey at 3am in the streets of Switzerland”. With adventure in the air, Caruana no doubt felt the urge to put pen to paper.
This song really hits home about wanderlust, and yet the love for home and family reign supreme, it gave me goose bumps the first time I listened to it and well, it’s simply beautiful.
At mid-point, title-track ‘Wolverines’ kicks in more aggressive, rather fittingly, with an a la Senses Fail post-hardcore prevailing riff that echoes around some thundering drumming – inheriting the spirit of basement conquerors Lifetime, this one-and-a-half minute song is nostalgic but with a rabid edge. When “This is the best day of my life” is sang out, we’re brought back a notch and reminded of the true class that is the main style of the band; slow and heavy strikes at the guitar and bass, with a malicious double pedal effort from Romnes. It brings me back to the old debut album days in 2005 – yet that reflecting is short lived. With no time spared, ‘Anne Lee’ wakes me up from my dream-like state and throws me right back into the mix to Caruana’s self-professed favourite song of the record. A bit more pop-based than the rest, it’s an easy and energy packed song with a massive sound.
Like a revamped ‘Casey’s Song’ (Avalanche United, 2011), ‘Save Your Name’ is next, and calls out now with backing gang vocals and upped tempo, and inching in there, a classic (but cleaner) the Vandals-esque filling riff – the pace just does not slow down neither, it grows and grows, pumping, building into a flurry of crashing drums and escalated guitar playing. The second it finishes you really need to take a deep breath.
The scenes left in the wake by the formidable Hurricane Sandy to Caruana’s hometown, Long Beach, were horrific and heart-breaking to say the least. With Caruana holding the metaphorical baton, he is the conductor in search of therapeutic release and retribution in ‘Where Were You?’. The lyrics were written in his bedroom in, looking out the window at the devastation caused, Caruana recalls “It was [a] pretty interesting mental and physical place to write”. Penning sincere and candour questions such as “Where were you when the lights went out?”, becoming meaningful and effective on many levels.
This emotive and heartfelt song will fastly become a fan favourite; it presents a new dimension to I Am the Avalanche which is topped off by an easy yet excitable guitar solo (if you can call it that, mind you!) and stripped back acoustic guitar segment... This track has it all – and it’s probably unexpectedly their biggest track yet, musically and lyrically: “We celebrated the conclusion of tracking by sprinting down the dock and jumping in the lake”.
‘My Lion Heart’ is the classic punk open letter to the listener: “When everyone’s asleep I’m just waking up; so many days I’ve wasted” parrying off declarations that we all can relate to at some time or another, and feel youthful again, full of life. Marching with spirit, the momentum is natural and compelling, not to be overlooked – it’s the penultimate track for a reason. ‘My Lion Heart’ is signed, sealed and delivered with a fantastic end note to boot also: “You can blacken both my eyes, I’m still gonna’ fight”.
Speaking of which, ‘One Last Time’ comes out fighting as the final track; all guns blazing with a epic introduction and much loved bass and drum combination to get your adrenaline whirling. Buoyed by a cheerful tone is Caruana’s voice, the song is a wild rush and concludes Wolverines eloquently, and rather perfectly.
Intoxicating and infectious, nothing lets up throughout the thirty minute span of the record. It’s so inviting that you do not realise it is over until it is too late, and has ended. Well, thank goodness for the repeat button. Having read several reviews already out about Wolverines, it seems they all filter into the same point, that this album has no filler tracks, or words to that effect, and the phrase ‘quality over quantity’ can be applied without hesitation – which also goes for the amount of albums they have released over their ten year spell.
I Am the Avalanche have challenged themselves once more, demonstrating their exuberance and showcasing why they are the talisman of the current underground New York scene. Trying to balance the negativity and positivity of everyday life, Wolverines embarks on a journey of stoicism, love, loss and unity (their fan base is called Avalanche United after all); “As long as the song writing goes and the craftsmanship goes, I think that this record is my finest achievement [...] We see it as quite an achievement in terms of how we've progressed as a band”, Caruana said proudly. It’s interesting, you knew what you were going to get with this album, and knew that it would not disappoint – but it goes seems to go one step further, and excites and surprises the listener as a solid album, with a superbly crafted sound, tinged with awe and wonder, and a lasting impression, which is why it deserves a full marks rating. Wolverines sinks its fangs into your heart, and claws away, gasping and gnawing at your core, to that very spot you didn’t think music could reach.