Click to hear: “Chasing Systems”
Dead End Armory’s first full-length album is a heavy record, sonically and emotionally. Alternately brooding and explosive, Hope You’re Good takes the listener on an intense 38-minute ride over the course of its eight tracks. It can be wearying, but it’s worth the trip.
I suppose you’d call this style of music slowcore country-rock. Singer Wesley Hartley (formerly John Wesley Hartley) has a Texan twang, the tempos fall somewhere between Merle Haggard and Seekonk, and before building to a roar, the guitars amble along in a lazy, honky-tonk fashion most of the time.
The first song, “Slowly Drift Away,” is an exception: a pretty, melancholy folk number adorned with nothing but Hartley’s aching voice and an acoustic guitar. “You wear the ocean so well around your waist,” he croons, and right away you know this guy’s a poet.
Hartley’s lyrics flirt with obscurity (e.g. “If you need a mystery then surely Sherlock will solve your crimes,” from the same song; “Chasing Systems” in its entirety), but just as often they’re arrestingly candid (“It’s good to see that you finally have a new mattress / Reminds me of the time you stuck a gun to my temple and made me beg you for forgiveness,” from the title track).
The general shape of the rest of the album is introduced on the next track, “I Hold.” A sluggish rhythm gradually gathers speed and volume, peters out, then builds again to a higher peak punctuated by crashing, feedback-laden guitar chords from Hartley and Mike O’Connor before collapsing a final time.
It’s not a novel songwriting device, but it’s effective with this material, if a bit overused over the course of seven songs. And those compositional peaks usually occasion Hartley to let his distinctive voice twist around in its higher registers, where it really grabs the ear.
Honey Clouds guitarist Ron Harrity (formerly of alt-country rockers Harpswell Sound) recorded and mixed the whole affair (he also released it on his Peapod label), and former Gateway hand Scott Elson mastered it at Acadia. They give the album a warm atmosphere and deftly manage to keep the needles in check when things get frenzied.
Not that pegging the needle is a bad thing – witness the band’s live shows. Joined by new bassist Steven Williams, who added light backing vocals to the album, DEA has been exercising these songs and breaking out new ones that show even more promise. Bleak as things get on Hope You’re Good, this band has bright days ahead.
— Chris Busby
Dead End Armory plays a CD release show on Fri., May 9, at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Honey Clouds, South China and Blues Challenger open. Tix: $5 (18+). deadendarmory.com.